Global leaders call for cervical cancer elimination on Day of Action

16 Nov
  • New HPV vaccine prequalification aims to rectify gross inequities in access to lifesaving tools
  • New R&D recommendations for artificial intelligence-based screening technologies
  • New investments and commitments by the French government’s L’Initiative facility, FIND, University of Miami, WHO

Today WHO joins advocates around the world to commemorate a landmark Day of Action for Cervical Cancer Elimination and welcome groundbreaking new initiatives to end this devastating disease, which claims the lives of over 300 000 women each year.

As with COVID-19, access to lifesaving tools is constrained, with women and adolescent girls in the poorest countries deprived of clinical screening facilities, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines and treatments which those in affluent places take for granted.

The disparity between deaths from cervical cancer in high-income compared with low-income countries tells a stark story, similar to that we have seen during the pandemic, with 9 in 10 deaths from cervical cancer happening in low and middle-income countries.

Over the last decade, manufacturers have tilted supply toward wealthier locations. In 2020, just 13% of girls aged 9–14 years globally were vaccinated against HPV – the virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. Around 80 countries – home to nearly two thirds of the global cervical cancer burden – are yet to introduce this lifesaving vaccine.

During this special day, WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, together with celebrities, first ladies, cancer survivors and health and community organizations, will help raise awareness and mobilize action – one year after WHO launched its landmark global initiative to eliminate cervical cancer.

WHO is also highlighting important new breakthroughs to prevent and treat the disease, including the prequalification of a fourth vaccine (Cecolin from a third manufacturer, Innovax) for HPV, which is expected to increase and diversify vital vaccination supply.

“Cervical cancer causes immense suffering, but it’s almost completely preventable and, if diagnosed early enough, one of the most successfully treatable cancers,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We have the tools to make cervical cancer history, but only if we make those tools available to everyone who needs them. Together with our partners in the WHO cervical cancer elimination initiative, that’s what we aim to do.”

The risk of cervical cancer increases six-fold for women living with HIV, but many have not had access to vaccination or screenings.

Tackling cervical cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr Tedros applauded countries that have adopted innovative ways to increase access to technologies and services that can stop cervical cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past year, the HPV vaccine was introduced in seven countries - Cameroon, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Mauritania, Qatar, Sao Tome and Principe, and Tuvalu – bringing the total to 115.

Some countries trained healthcare workers with newer, portable devices to thermally ablate precancers. Others expanded the use of self-sampling – endorsed in recently published WHO guidelines – to allow women to collect their own cervical swab. This option can reduce stigma for women, provides access to those living far from health facilities, and helps congested health centres maintain safe services while respecting COVID-19 safety measures. The self-collected sample can be run on the same laboratory platforms that countries have been investing in to support PCR testing for COVID-19.

But setbacks have occurred. Access to screening services has fallen for many women and in a recent survey, 43% of countries reported disruption to cancer treatment. Meanwhile HPV vaccination rates globally fell from 15% in 2019 to 13% in 2020, amidst health service disruptions and school closures.

“There has been important progress towards cervical cancer elimination even over this unprecedented year,” said Dr Princess Nono Simelela, Special Advisor to the Director-General on Strategic Priorities, including Cervical Cancer Elimination. “While we have seen major advances in new technologies and research, the critical next step is to ensure these are designed for and accessible in low- and middle-income countries, and that the health and rights of women and girls everywhere are prioritized in the recovery from COVID-19.”

New technologies, investments and research to aid the fight against cervical cancer

Adding to important milestones achieved over the course of the past year, today WHO is releasing new recommendations to guide research into artificial intelligence (AI)-based screening technologies. This first-of-its-kind guidance supports developers to bring cervical cancer screening into the future, and ensure pre-cancers are detected as early as possible.

The first designated “WHO Collaborating Centre for Cervical Cancer Elimination” was also announced at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the University of Miami, which will be an important site for research and technical assistance to help countries achieve elimination targets.

The Day of Action will encompass a major global event and press availability, organized from WHO headquarters in Geneva. It will feature performances and remarks from cancer survivors and renowned artists such as Angelique Kidjo, as well as community efforts to promote vaccinations and screenings. 100 world monuments are being illuminated in teal – the colour of cervical cancer elimination - to mark the day, from the Temple of Heaven in Beijing to city skylines across Australia and Canada’s Niagara Falls.

“We have the tools and knowledge to eliminate cervical cancer. What we do with that is up to us,” said H.E. Neo Jane Masisi, First Lady of the Republic of Botswana, who is participating in the day’s events. “We can make choices that condemn women to a painful, avoidable death. Or, we can prioritize their health, so that a future generation of women and their families look back with pride at the choices we made today.”

Several partners also announced important global commitments and investments during the day’s events:

  • FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics, announced the launch of a new initiative to improve cervical cancer testing and screening using innovative technologies in low- and middle-income countries;
  • Unitaid reaffirmed its commitment to lay the groundwork for wide-scale adoption of innovative cervical cancer screening and treatment tools - and is on track to reach one million women by 2022, despite COVID-19;
  • The French government’s L’Initiative facility, implemented by Expertise France, will announce a reinforcement of the support, including operational research, to countries with high comorbidity and coinfection of HIV and HPV-associated cancers.

Notes to editors

WHO‘s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer as a Public Health Problem was launched a year ago today, and outlines three ambitious targets to be achieved over the next decade, including 90% girls getting vaccinated against HPV, 70% women screened for pre-cancerous lesions, and 90% of those who need it having access to treatment and palliative care. Together, these measures could reduce new cases of the disease by more than 40% and prevent 5 million related deaths by 2050.

Over the last year, WHO has published various new resources to help countries achieve the cervical cancer elimination targets:

  • New country profiles provide a baseline for WHO member states to track progress against elimination goals.
  • New recommendations for screening and treatment to prevent cervical cancer, including women living with HIV
  • Technical specifications for radiotherapy equipment for cancer treatment and a new framework for strengthening services for managing invasive cervical cancer, including diagnosis, staging, treatment, and palliative and survivorship care.

 

Joint Research Centre and World Health Organization join forces to use behavioural insights for public health

11 Nov

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded a Collaborative Research Arrangement that aims to mainstream behavioural insights into public health programmes and policies worldwide. Behavioural insights can help improve understanding on how and why people behave in ways that affect their health, and help design policies and services that address behavioural factors for improved physical and mental well-being.

The Commission, through the JRC, will assist WHO in expanding its behavioural insights for health programme. Both organisations will agree on specific areas of focus, which would include issues like non-communicable diseases, anti-microbial resistance and the use of behavioural insights to increase the capacity of health workforce.

JRC Director-General Stephen Quest said: “We are confident that including a strand of behavioural research in public health programmes will increase their efficiency in preventing and treating a series of health risks and diseases. We are very happy to share our experience and knowledge of integrating behavioural insights in the policy making of an international public institution, and to blend them with WHO’s experience and knowledge in applying science to public health. This agreement strengthens the tools available to tackle major public health issues worldwide.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, welcomed the partnership, adding: “Harnessing the power of behavioural science is vital for helping WHO achieve its mission to advance the health of all people. WHO’s collaboration with the European Commission to scale up use of behavioural science and research reflects our commitment to transforming how we work to promote health. Our partnership could not come at a better time, as behavioural challenges are affecting people’s health in many ways, from the measures we take to protect ourselves from COVID-19 to the decisions we make on nutrition, antibiotics and information we use for our health.”

This Collaborative Research Arrangement builds on the priority placed by European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen on public health. It will contribute to building the European Health Union and promoting reforms in health governance in the EU and worldwide. 

The JRC’s Competence Centre on Behavioural Insights, which works to support EU policymaking with evidence on human behaviour, will drive the new collaboration.

Behavioural science at WHO

WHO initiated its Transformation process four years ago to scale up impact of its activities by making it fit for purpose and through stronger collaboration with partners. As part of this Transformation, WHO launched a new initiative to explore ways to better use behavioural evidence for policymaking and programme design across the Organization and with its Member States. The initiative has launched several projects and receives guidance by a Technical Advisory Group bringing together academic and practitioner experts from several regions around the world and disciplines related to behavioural insights. 

 

New WHO report maps barriers to insulin availability and suggests actions to promote universal access

11 Nov

A new report published by WHO in the lead-up to World Diabetes Day highlights the alarming state of global access to insulin and diabetes care, and finds that high prices, low availability of human insulin, few producers dominating the insulin market and weak health systems are the main barriers to universal access.

“The scientists who discovered insulin 100 years ago refused to profit from their discovery and sold the patent for just one dollar,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Unfortunately, that gesture of solidarity has been overtaken by a multi-billion-dollar business that has created vast access gaps. WHO is working with countries and manufacturers to close these gaps and expand access to this life-saving medicine for everyone who needs it.”

Insulin is the bedrock of diabetes treatment – it turns a deadly disease into a manageable one for nine million people with type 1[i] diabetes. For more than 60 million people living with type 2 diabetes, insulin is essential in reducing the risk of kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation.

However, one out of every two people needing insulin for type 2 diabetes does not get it. Diabetes is on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, and yet their consumption of insulin has not kept up with the growing disease burden. The report highlights that while three in four people affected by type 2 diabetes live in countries outside of North America and Europe, they account for less than 40% of the revenue from insulin sales.

Keeping the 100-year-old promise – making insulin access universal, published today to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, spotlights the main causes for the gaps in global access to insulin as:

  • The global market shift from human insulin, which can be produced at relatively low cost, to the pricier analogues (synthetic insulins) is imposing an untenable financial burden on lower-income countries. In general, human insulin is as effective as analogues, but analogues are at least 1.5 times more expensive than human insulins, and in some countries three times more expensive;
  • Three multinational companies control more than 90% of the insulin market, leaving little space for smaller companies to compete for insulin sales;
  • Suboptimal regulation and policies, including suboptimal pharmaceutical pricing approaches, weak procurement and supply chain management, insufficient financing to cover demand, and overall weak governance are affecting access to insulin and related devices, such as monitoring and delivery devices, in all countries;
  • Insufficient health system capacity and infrastructure, including a lack of service integration at the primary care level, inadequate capacity for providing diabetes care and ensuring supply continuity and infrastructure for information management, supply management, and local production of insulins are widespread challenges in lower-income countries;
  • Research is geared towards wealthy markets, neglecting the public health needs of low- and middle-income countries, which account for 80% of the diabetes burden.

The pricing landscape is also uneven and reveals a lack of transparency in the way prices are set, according to the report. For example, biosimilar insulins (essentially generic versions) could be more than 25% cheaper than the originator product, but many countries, including lower-income ones, are not benefitting from this potential saving.

The report suggests several actions to improve access to insulins and related products, including:

  • Boosting human insulin production and supply and diversifying the manufacturing base for biosimilar analogue insulins to create competition and reduce prices;
  • Improve affordability by regulating prices and mark-ups, using pooled procurement and improving transparency in the way prices are set;
  • Promote local manufacturing capacity in under-served regions;
  • Promote R&D centred on the needs of low- and middle-income countries;
  • Ensure that increased access to insulin is accompanied by prompt diagnosis, and access to affordable devices for blood sugar monitoring and injecting insulin;
  • Use health resources wisely by selecting human insulin where possible and allocate adequate funding to provide a full package of care.

WHO has accelerated efforts to address some of the barriers to the availability of insulin and related medicines and health technologies through a series of dialogues with business associations and manufacturers of these products.

Several months after the first dialogue, industry has committed to a number of actions, including:

  • The development of a policy blueprint for improving access to biosimilars of insulin;
  • Participation in WHO’s prequalification programme for insulin, glucose meters, test strips and diagnostic tools;
  • Participation in international/UN pooled procurement or aggregated demand mechanisms, once established;
  • Submission of data on insulin thermostability to WHO; and
  • Participation in the reporting mechanism that WHO will use to register and publish contributions from the pharmaceutical and health technology industry.

The expansion of WHO’s prequalification programme to include glucose monitoring devices, test strips and diagnostic tools, and the inclusion of additional forms of insulin and other diabetes medicines in the latest update of the WHO Model Lists of Essential Medicines are expected to lead to improved access in countries where demand is currently unmet.

Efforts to increase access to life-saving diabetes medicines is just one of the workstreams of the Global Diabetes Compact, launched in April 2021. The Compact is bringing together national governments, UN organizations, nongovernmental organizations, private sector entities, academic institutions, philanthropic foundations, people living with diabetes and international donors to work towards a world where all people at risk for diabetes or living with diabetes can access the care they need.

[i] For definitions of type 1 and 2 diabetes refer to WHO Diabetes fact sheet

 

Global progress against measles threatened amidst COVID-19 pandemic

10 Nov

While reported measles cases have fallen compared to previous years, progress toward measles elimination continues to decline and the risk of outbreaks is mounting, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During 2020, more than 22 million infants missed their first dose of measles vaccine - 3 million more than in 2019, marking the largest increase in two decades and creating dangerous conditions for outbreaks to occur.  

Compared with the previous year, reported measles cases decreased by more than 80 percent in 2020.

However, measles surveillance also deteriorated with the lowest number of specimens sent for laboratory testing in over a decade. Weak measles monitoring, testing and reporting for measles jeopardize countries’ ability to prevent outbreaks of this highly infectious disease. Major measles outbreaks occurred in 26 countries and accounted for 84 percent of all reported cases in 2020.

“Large numbers of unvaccinated children, outbreaks of measles, and disease detection and diagnostics diverted to support COVID-19 responses are factors that increase the likelihood of measles-related deaths and serious complications in children,” said Kevin Cain, MD, CDC’s Global Immunization Director.  “We must act now to strengthen disease surveillance systems and close immunity gaps, before travel and trade return to pre-pandemic levels, to prevent­­ deadly measles outbreaks and mitigate the risk of other vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Lower reported measles cases in 2020 must not mask the growing risk of measles to children worldwide

The ability of countries to ensure children receive both recommended doses of measles vaccine is a key indicator of global progress toward measles elimination and capacity to prevent the spread of the virus.  First-dose coverage fell in 2020, and only 70 percent of children received their second dose measles vaccine, well below the 95 percent coverage needed to protect communities from the spread of the measles virus.

Adding to the worsening of immunity gaps worldwide, 24 measles vaccination campaigns in 23 countries, originally planned for 2020, were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic - leaving more than 93 million people at risk for the disease. These supplemental campaigns are needed where people have missed out on measles-containing vaccines through routine immunization programs.

“While reported measles cases dropped in 2020, evidence suggests we are likely seeing the calm before the storm as the risk of outbreaks continues to grow around the world,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another.”

Immunization and surveillance systems must be strengthened to reduce growing measles risks  

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to immunization services and changes in health-seeking behaviors in many parts of the world. While the measures used to mitigate COVID-19 – masking, handwashing, distancing - also reduce the spread of the measles virus, countries and global health partners must prioritize finding and vaccinating children against measles to reduce the risk of explosive outbreaks and preventable deaths from this disease.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious human viruses but is almost entirely preventable through vaccination.  In the last 20 years, the measles vaccine is estimated to have averted more than 30 million deaths globally. Estimated deaths from measles dropped from around 1,070,000 in 2000 to 60,700 in 2020.  The estimated number of measles cases in 2020 was 7.5 million globally.  Measles transmission within communities is not only a clear indicator of poor measles vaccination coverage, but also a known marker, or ‘tracer,’ that vital health services are not reaching populations most at risk.

The Measles & Rubella Initiative

The Measles & Rubella Initiative (M&RI) is a partnership among the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. CDC, UNICEF and WHO. Working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and other stakeholders, the Initiative is committed to achieving and maintaining a world without measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome. Since 2000, M&RI has helped deliver measles vaccine to children worldwide and saved over 31.7 million lives globally by increasing vaccination coverage, responding to outbreaks, monitoring and evaluation, and supporting confidence and demand for vaccination.

By the end of 2020, 81 countries (42 percent) had succeeded in sustaining their measles elimination status despite the pandemic, but no new countries were verified as having achieved measles elimination.  There are still 15 countries that have not introduced the measles second dose into their national immunization schedules, leaving children and adolescents in these countries especially vulnerable to measles outbreaks.

Additional Quotes

“For over two decades, Red Cross volunteers have reached members of their communities in need of life-saving vaccines. Volunteers provide critical health information to families through encouragement and a familiar face. This has helped shift minds and hearts to vaccinate millions of children within these communities,” says Koby Langley, Senior Vice President of the American Red Cross International Services and Service to the Armed Forces Department. “With the continuing global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this work is vital. Now more than ever, we need to reach children who are unprotected against deadly disease and prevent further outbreaks.”     

“The pandemic is having a huge impact on countries’ ability to deliver essential health services such as routine immunization, placing millions of people, mainly children, at risk of highly infectious diseases such as measles. Our priority at Gavi is to help countries mitigate this risk and prevent disease outbreaks by closing the growing immunity gaps through strengthening routine immunization, and conducting well-planned, targeted catch-up campaigns,” said Anuradha Gupta, Deputy CEO, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance. “We must urgently address the critical measles immunity gaps with a particular focus on reaching zero-dose children who are most at risk of devastating measles outbreaks.”

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing how even small pockets of low measles immunization coverage could fuel unprecedented outbreaks, including in countries where the disease had been considered eradicated. And now, COVID-19 is creating widening gaps in coverage at a pace we haven’t seen in decades,” said Ephrem Tekle Lemango, UNICEF Associate Director for Immunization. “While we have not seen an increase in cases yet, measles is simply too contagious. If we do not act, gaps will become outbreaks, and many children will be exposed to a preventable but potentially deadly disease,” he added.

“The decline of reported cases in measles means we have to redouble our efforts to protect the millions of endangered kids from dying of a fully preventable disease,” says Lori Sloate, Senior Director of Global Health at the UN Foundation. “The straightest path is to work together to leverage scarce resources that invest in local health system strengthening efforts to address both covid and basic immunization. One cannot come at the expense of the other.”

The Future is Unwritten – Healing Arts Symposium

10 Nov

Symposium presented in partnership with the World Health Organization and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a “cultural call to action” to invest in the arts to improve physical, mental, and social health

On November 14, 2021, leading policy advocates, artists, and researchers from cultural organizations, healthcare centers, government, and the United Nations will convene at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in a call to action to acknowledge and act on the evidence base for the health benefits of the arts.

The day-long Healing Arts Symposium, presented in partnership with the World Health Organization, and produced by CULTURUNNERS in partnership with the Creative Arts Therapies Consortium at NYU Steinhardt, the NeuroArts Blueprint, an initiative of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the Health, Medicine, and Society Program at The Aspen Institute, and the Open Mind Project positions the arts as necessary to physical, mental, and social health across the lifespan. The event will be live streamed.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, commented about the symposium, “We are particularly pleased that Museums like The Met are rethinking their missions to see themselves not simply as repositories of valuable objects, but as centres of creative engagement with their communities in the pursuit of promoting the wellbeing, and health, of the public.”

The event will be centered around three themed panels exploring the intersection of research, cultural practice, and global policy in the arts and health. Opening remarks by Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Direct-General, will frame the panels which are being hosted by Heidi Holder, The Met's newly appointed Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chair of Education; Nisha Sajnani, Founding Director of Arts & Health @ NYU; and Susan Magsamen, Executive Director of the International Arts + Mind Lab. Participating artists include soprano and arts and health advocate Renée Fleming; American singer, actress, and founding member of Black Theatre United, Vanessa Williams; and Syrian-American artist and architect Mohamad Hafez. Also participating are Aduke Gomez, Chairperson for Art4Health in the Ministry for Health in Lagos, Nigeria; Patrick J. Kennedy, former congressman and mental health advocate; Sunil Iyengar, Director of the Office of Research & Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); and Emmeline Edwards, Director of the Division of Extramural Research of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).

Christopher Bailey, Arts & Health Lead, World Health Organization, comments, “With a growing body of evidence that embedding the arts into systems and places of healing can improve health outcomes, lower costs and support recovery from illness and injury, now is the time for a ‘healing arts revolution’ that improves the wellbeing of millions of people worldwide.”

The program will shine a special light on arts and health interventions on the ground, and highlight projects on the “frontline” of the pandemic where the crisis has exacerbated pre-existing threats to the environment, equity and access, economy, public health, political stability, and human rights.

The Healing Arts Symposium marks the culmination of Healing Arts New York, the last of a series of 2021 city activations, produced by CULTURUNNERS, to convene global arts and health researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. As the world emerges from the greatest health crisis in a generation, Healing Arts aims to affirm what artists have always known and research is now proving—that the arts can heal.

This program is made possible, in part, by donors to The Met’s Education Department in honor of the Museum’s 150th anniversary.

These events will be produced in accordance with institutional and City COVID-19 protocols to ensure the health and safety of presenters.

For the full Healing Arts New York program, visit our website

International organizations, vaccine manufacturers take stock of COVID-19 vaccine roll out, share views for 2022

10 Nov

The heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization held on 9 November the 2nd High-Level Consultations with the CEOs of leading COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing companies. At the meeting, all participants agreed on the urgency of delivering more vaccine doses to low-income countries, where less than 2.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The objective of the meeting was to identify how to ensure more equitable distribution of vaccines and all those participating pledged to continue working together to gain greater clarity on donations, vaccine swaps and delivery schedules so that distribution of the life-saving vaccines can be more effectively targeted towards those countries most in need.

The meeting of the Multilateral Leaders Task Force on COVID-19 built on technical work undertaken by multidisciplinary teams during the months of September and October.

During the consultations, the heads of the four organizations and the CEOs also examined how best to tackle trade-related bottlenecks; how to improve  the donation process; what additional steps are needed to reach the vaccination target of 40% of people in all countries by the end of the year; and how to improve transparency and data sharing with the IMF-WHO Vaccine Supply Forecast Dashboard and the Multilateral Leaders Task Force, requiring close collaboration between manufacturers, governments and COVAX on enhanced visibility of delivery schedules, especially for donated doses.

The outlook for 2022 was also discussed, focusing on diversification of manufacturing across regions, as well as strengthening collaboration to achieve the global target of vaccinating 70% of the populations of all countries by the middle of the year. The group acknowledged progress in diversifying manufacturing, with new partnerships in multiple developing country regions, and stressed the need to continue to strengthen such manufacturing collaboration.

The heads of the organizations encouraged all G20 governments to join the effort to meet the vaccination target of 40% by end-2021 by allowing manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) contracts; streamlining donations to COVAX and pledging more doses; exploring possibilities for effective vaccine swaps with COVAX and the AVAT; and eliminating export restrictions to vaccines and their inputs. 

 

WHO and the International Organization of La Francophonie sign agreement that outlines common areas of work on universal health coverage, malaria control and the WHO Academy

9 Nov

WHO and the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) today signed an agreement that gives political and legal anchoring to the cooperation between these two organizations.

The agreement was signed at the WHO Headquarters by Mrs Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary General of La Francophonie, and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. 

It builds on the memorandum of understanding signed by the two organizations in April 2021, setting out the main areas of joint action, including the WHO Academy, advancing universal health coverage, primary health care and malaria control.

This agreement now allows the OIF and WHO to participate mutually in the governing bodies of the two organizations, according to the rules specific to each.

“This agreement is the next step in strengthening the already-close relationship between our two organizations,” said Dr Tedros. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of global solidarity and international collaboration. The Francophonie’s commitment to peace, democracy and human rights makes it an ideal partner for WHO.”

Mrs Mushikiwabo said: “This agreement will allow the OIF to contribute with WHO on the development of social protections and universal access to public health services for all in the French-speaking world. 

Referring to the COVID-19 crisis, she added: "We will only be safe from this pandemic when all countries of the world have vaccinated their populations."

During the agreement signing ceremony, Mrs Mushikiwabo and Dr Tedros repeated their call for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and other tools needed to fight the pandemic. 

Ambassadors of francophone countries unanimously welcomed the agreement and strongly supported multilateral initiatives led by WHO and the OIF to scale up access to vaccines in their countries.

Logo of the Organisation internationale de la Francohonie

 

Countries commit to develop climate-smart health care at COP26 UN climate conference

8 Nov

A group of 50 countries have committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), in response to growing evidence of the impact of climate change on people’s health.

The governments of these 50 countries, which include some of those most vulnerable to the health harms caused by climate change as well as some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, have committed to take concrete steps towards creating climate-resilient health systems. 

Forty-five of these countries have also committed to transform their health systems to be more sustainable and low-carbon. Fourteen have set a target date to reach net zero carbon emissions on or before 2050. 

The commitments were made as part of the COP26 Health Programme, a partnership between the UK government, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Climate Champions and health groups, such as Health Care Without Harm.

“The future of health must be built on health systems that are resilient to the impacts of epidemics, pandemics and other emergencies, but also to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and the increasing burden of various diseases related to air pollution and our warming planet,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. 

“Health systems must also be part of the solution, by reducing carbon emissions. We applaud those countries that have committed to building climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems, and we hope to see many others following their lead in the near future.” 

Countries that have committed to achieving low-carbon, sustainable health systems include Argentina, Fiji, Malawi, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America and 39 others. Countries that have committed to enhance the climate resilience of their health systems include Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Maldives, the Netherlands, and 45 others.

The government of Fiji, for example, is responding to the increase in cyclones, flash floods, and rising sea levels causing lack of drinking water due to saltwater intrusion, by building more climate-resilient health infrastructure, strengthening the health workforce, and providing health care facilities with sustainable energy services.

“The message from WHO and health professionals around the globe is clear: climate change is a huge health challenge and we need to act now. I’m really pleased to see so many countries prioritising this issue through the COP26 Health Programme and their level of ambition. Strong leadership from the health sector is vital to make sure we protect our populations from the impacts of climate change by enhancing the climate resilience of health systems, and by reducing emissions from the health sector,” said Wendy Morton, Minister for Europe and Americas, in the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The country commitments come off the back of a WHO survey, launched this week, which shows that the majority of countries now include health in their national climate plans to the Paris Agreement, but that plans often still lack detailed health actions or support mechanisms.

“These government commitments exemplify the growing global health movement for climate action. Around the world doctors, nurses, hospitals, health systems and ministries of health are reducing their climate footprint, becoming more resilient and advocating for a just transition that puts health at the centre of a decarbonized civilization,” said Josh Karliner, International Director of Program and Strategy of Health Care Without Harm.

In addition to the national commitments, 54 institutions from 21 countries representing more than 14 000 hospitals and health centres have joined the UNFCCC Race to Zero and committed to achieving net zero emissions. 

A record number of health leaders are participating at the COP26 UN climate conference, and more than 45 million health professionals, representing two thirds of the world’s health workforce, have signed a letter urging governments to take stronger action, noting that “hospitals, clinics and communities around the world have already been responding to the health harms caused by climate change”.

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Note to editors

About the COP26 Health Programme

Health was selected as one of three science priority areas for COP26 by the UK government. As part of the COP26 Health Programme, the COP26 Presidency is working alongside WHO, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) and the UNFCCC Climate Champions to engage countries and stakeholders on climate and health.

The COP26 Health Programme has been established to bring stronger health focus and ambition to COP26. Initiatives under the COP26 Health Programme include: 

  • Building climate resilient health systems.
  • Developing low carbon sustainable health systems.
  • Adaptation Research for Health.
  • The inclusion of health priorities in Nationally Determined Contributions.
  • Raising the voice of health professionals as advocates for stronger ambition on climate change.

Under the COP26 Health Programme’s first commitment area, countries have committed to conducting climate change and health vulnerability assessments, and to develop national adaptation plans for health.

Under the programme’s second commitment area, high ambition/high emitter countries commit to setting a target date by which to achieve net zero emissions health systems and develop an action plan or roadmap to achieve sustainable, low carbon health systems. 

The latter is significant to global mitigation efforts: the health sector accounts for 10% of global GDP and is a substantial contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for around 4.6%. 

Country commitments

A list of all country commitments will be available on the WHO website, here.

The countries that have joined the COP26 Health Programme include:

  • Argentina
  • Bahamas
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium
  • Belize
  • Bhutan
  • Cape Verde
  • Central African Republic
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Egypt
  • Ethiopia
  • Fiji
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Jordan
  • Kenya
  • Lao PDR
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Maldives
  • Morocco
  • Mozambique
  • Nepal
  • Netherlands
  • Nigeria
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Rwanda
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Sierra Leone
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Tunisia
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America
  • Yemen

Country quotes

“The health co-benefits from climate actions are well evidenced and offer a strong argument for transformative changes.” Director of Public Health, Dr. Morenike Alex-Okoh, MoH, Nigeria.

“The government of Malawi recognizes the essential role of the health sector to ensure a successful COP26, and has committed to strengthen the climate resilience of its health systems, while developing low carbon health systems… as a way of contributing to the targets of the Paris Agreement,” Hon. Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister of Health Malawi.

"The climate change extreme effects and damages on the public health of Sao Tome and Principe population, require urgent multisectoral integrated measures and actions alongside the communities engagement with partners, to be low carbon ensuring and to increase the resilience, both on the National Health System" - Edgar Manuel Agostinho Azevedo das Neves, Health Minister, Sao Tome and Prinicpe.

“In the midst of the pandemic, we had to recover from extreme weather events and manage the resulting health impacts. [It] has shown us that health systems and facilities are the main line of defense in protecting populations from emerging threats … and that now is the time to increase our commitment to a safer, and more sustainable and inclusive future for all.” Hon. Ifereimi Waqainabete, Minister for Health and Medical Services, Fiji.

“This commitment is an important step for us to continue ongoing efforts and speed up the implementation of the adaptation and mitigation actions” Phonepaseuth Ounaphom, Director Department of Hygiene and Health Promotion, Ministry of Health, Lao PDR.

“The Maldives Health Sector is fully committed to executing the National Green Climate Smart Hospital Policy and Strategy to establish a climate change resilient health system with environment friendly technologies resulting in energy efficient services and a low-carbon footprint.” Ahmed Naseem, Minister of Health, Maldives.

“Ministry of Health and Prevention, in partnership with WHO, launched a comprehensive, multisectoral National Framework for Action on Climate Change and Health to develop sector-specific adaptation plan. UAE is also working towards reducing emissions and developing an action plan for a low-carbon health system” HE Dr. Hussain Abdulrahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary for Public Health, Ministry of Health and Prevention, United Arab Emirates.

“Climate change is a health crisis of recent times in Nepal and a moral issue as per the fundamental rights of Nepalese people to enjoy good health. Enhancement of climate resilience and environmental sustainability of health services and facilities, and commitment to act together in building climate resilient health systems are imperative to minimize the impacts of climate change on health.”– Dr. Samir Kumar Adhikari, Chief of Multisectoral Coordination, Ministry of Health and Population, Nepal.

 

Many countries are prioritizing health and climate change, but lack funds to take action

8 Nov

Countries have begun to prioritize health in their efforts to protect people from the impact of climate change, but only about a quarter of those recently surveyed by the World Health Organization have been able to fully implement their national health and climate change plans or strategies. Countries report that a lack of funding; the impact of COVID-19; and insufficient human resource capacity are major barriers to progress.

The 2021 WHO health and climate change global survey report finds, however, that over three quarters of surveyed countries have developed or are currently developing national health and climate change plans or strategies.

Some 85% of countries now have a designated focal point responsible for health and climate change in their ministries of health, while in 54% of countries, the ministry of health has established a stakeholder mechanism (such as a task force or committee) on health and climate change.

About two-thirds of surveyed countries have conducted a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment or are currently undertaking one, while virtually all (94%) countries incorporate health considerations in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement.

“The new WHO survey highlights how many countries are left unsupported and unprepared to deal with the health impacts of climate change. We are here at COP 26 to urge the world to better support countries in need, and to ensure that together we do a better job of protecting people from the biggest threat to human health we face today,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health.

Countries’ inability to protect health from climate change is most harmful for their most disadvantaged groups, including ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants and displaced people, older people and many women and children.

“The health arguments for increased climate action are very clear. For example, almost 80% of deaths caused by air pollution could be avoided if current air pollution levels were reduced to the WHO Air Quality guidelines,” said Dr Neira.

The WHO survey finds that insufficient finance continues to be the top stumbling block to fully implementing national health and climate change plans, cited by 70% of countries (up from 56% in 2019). Human resource constraints are the second biggest barrier, whilst about one third of countries identified a lack of intersectoral collaboration as a key barrier.

About half of the countries report that the COVID-19 emergency has slowed progress on addressing climate change by diverting health personnel and resources, and continues to threaten national health authorities’ abilities to plan and prepare for climate-related health stresses and shocks.

The report also notes a potential missed opportunity to identify and optimize the health benefits of adaptation and mitigation efforts in other sectors, which could have fed into a clean, healthy recovery from COVID-19: structural and social determinants of health, such as education, equity, gender, urban planning, housing, energy and transportation systems was represented in fewer than half of the established multisectoral mechanisms.

The first report in this series was released in 2019. This second report provides a valuable snapshot of the overall progress governments have made in addressing the health risks of climate change.

“The challenge now is to remove the barriers that are preventing countries from finalizing and implementing plans,” said Tara Neville, Technical Officer at the WHO Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health and lead author of the survey report.

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Note for editors:

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2021 health and climate change global survey report provides a valuable snapshot of the overall progress governments have made in addressing the health risks of climate change. The findings on key health and climate change indicators aim to empower policy makers to: make informed decisions on the implementation of policies and plans; identify evidence gaps; and better understand the barriers to achieving adaptation and resilience priorities in the health sector while maximizing the health benefits of sector-wide climate mitigation efforts.

The health response to climate change is taking place within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, continued environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, socio-economic inequities, and a chronic under-investment in health systems. Where data is available, the report aims to provide findings on these inter-related challenges.

Main Findings

  1. Approximately two-thirds (67%) of surveyed countries have conducted a climate change and health vulnerability and adaptation assessment or are currently undertaking one. Assessment findings are informing health policies and programmes but continue to have a limited influence on the allocation of human and financial resources.
  2. Over three-quarters (77%) of surveyed countries have developed or are currently developing national health and climate change plans or strategies. However, implementation is impeded by insufficient financing, human resource constraints, and limited research, evidence, technologies and tools.
  3. About half of surveyed countries (52%) report the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on their work to protect health from climate change, diverting health personnel and resources and slowing the implementation of protective measures. Just one-third (33%) of country respondents have taken the opportunity to include climate change and health considerations in their plans for recovery from COVID-19.
  4. There is progress in developing intersectoral collaboration on policies and programmes related to health and climate change. Most of these collaborations (>75% of country reported mechanisms) include representation from stakeholders or sectors addressing the environmental determinants of health such as safe water, sanitation and hygiene services (WASH), clean air and meteorological services. Representation of stakeholders or sectors focused on the structural and social determinants of health, such as education, urban planning, housing, energy and transportation systems is less common (40-50% of country reported mechanisms).
  5. Less than 40% of countries include weather and climate information in their health surveillance systems for climate-sensitive diseases. Most commonly countries have climate-informed health surveillance systems for vector-borne, waterborne, airborne or respiratory diseases.
  6. Only one-third of surveyed countries have climate-informed health early warning systems for heat-related illness (33%) or injury and mortality from extreme weather events (30%) despite strong evidence that these risks are increasing around the world.
  7. The health workforce is increasingly informed and trained on the connection between climate change and health (some level of training conducted in 42% of countries), but further efforts are needed to ensure capacity building covers a comprehensive set of relevant skills and is routinely integrated into health workforce development.
  8. A growing number of countries (27%) have conducted assessments of the climate resilience of their health care facilities.
  9. Only a small proportion of ministries of health in low-and-lower-middle-income countries (LLMICs) (28%) are currently receiving international funds to support climate change and health work. Access to international funds, including multilateral climate funds, needs to be substantially scaled up to reach the levels required to protect health from climate change.
  10. Countries have significantly increased health considerations in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Almost all (94%) of 142 new or updated NDCs published in 2020-2021 mention health compared to 70% of 184 NDCs in 2019. The health benefits of climate mitigation are now referenced in 28% of new or updated NDCs up from 10% in 2019. 

FAO/WHO Joint Media Advisory: Codex Alimentarius Commission

5 Nov

The 44th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission will be held online from 8 to 18 November 2021 with members of the international food standards-setting body expected to approve a series of standards, guidelines and codes of practice. Sessions will be held on 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 15 November (12.00-15.00 CET), with the adoption of the report scheduled for 17 and 18 November.

The following Codex Committees and Task Forces have met virtually in 2021 to complete work on a range of standards which have been proposed for adoption by CAC44: 
  • Spices and Culinary Herbs 
  • Contaminants in Foods  
  • Methods of Analysis and Sampling  
  • Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems 
  • Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Foods 
  • Pesticide Residues  
  • Food Additives  
  • Food Labelling  
  • Antimicrobial Resistance

During its 44th session the Commission will also examine the possible need and mechanism for Codex to address and provide guidance on new food sources and production systems (e.g. microalgae, cell culture based food products, 3D printed foods, etc.), and review the updates of the FAO Food Safety Strategy 2022-2031 and WHO Global Strategy for Food Safety 2022-2030. The Commission will also elect a new Chairperson and three Vice Chairpersons.

Information for journalists

The proceedings of the 44th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission will be webcast in six Official languages.

Real-time summaries of key decisions made by the Codex Alimentarius Commission will be published on the websites of both FAO and WHO as they happen. 

About Codex 

Established in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO), the Codex Alimentarius Commission is the UN food standards body charged with protecting consumer health and ensuring fair practices in international food trade. 

Comprising 189 Members and 240 observer organizations, the Codex Alimentarius Commission meets annually to adopt food safety and quality standards and related recommendations. This is its 44th session.