WHO chief calls for investment in public health, lauds Germany’s commitment

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on September 08, 2020

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, WHO   -  AP

The world has to be better prepared when the next pandemic comes around: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

It is important to learn from previous disease outbreaks and invest in public health to deal with future ones, said World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, outlining successful initiatives by several countries, including a recent commitment from Germany.

Lauding the announcement by Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend on her Government’s investment of €4 billion by 2026 to strengthen Germany’s public health system, Tedros said, “I call on all countries to invest in public health, and especially in primary health care, and follow Germany’s example.” Although Germany’s response was strong, it was also learning lessons, he pointed out.

“This will not be the last pandemic. History teaches us that outbreaks and pandemics are a fact of life,” he said, urging the world to be better prepared when the next pandemic comes around.

Many countries have made enormous advances in medicine, but too many have neglected their basic public health systems, which are the foundation for responding to infectious disease outbreaks, he said. In fact, part of every country’s commitment to build back better must involve greater investment in public health, he added.

Outlining some good examples, he said, Thailand was reaping the benefits of 40 years of health system strengthening. “A robust and well-resourced medical and public health system, allied with strong leadership informed by the best available scientific advice, a trained and committed community workforce with one million village health volunteers, and consistent and accurate communication, have built trust and increased public confidence and compliance.”

Italy’s hard decisions

Italy was among the earliest countries to experience a large outbreak outside China, and a pioneer or sorts. “Italy took hard decisions based on the evidence and persisted with them, which reduced transmission and saved many lives. National unity and solidarity, combined with the dedication and sacrifice of health workers, and the engagement of the Italian people, brought the outbreak under control,” he said.

“Mongolia acted very early, activating its State Emergency Committee in January. As a result, despite neighbouring China, Mongolia’s first case was not reported until March and it still has no reported deaths.”

Mauritius was at high-risk, given its high population density, with high rates of non-communicable diseases and many international travellers. But quick, comprehensive action, initiated in January, and previous experience with contact tracing paid off, he said.

Although the Americas has been the most-affected region, Uruguay has reported the lowest number of cases and deaths in Latin America, both in total and on a per capita basis, said Tedros.

Pointing out, “This is not an accident,” he said, “Uruguay has one of the most robust and resilient health systems in Latin America, with sustainable investment based on political consensus on the importance of investing in public health.”

Pakistan deployed the infrastructure built up over many years for polio to combat Covid-19, he said. “Community health workers who have been trained to go door-to-door vaccinating children for polio have been utilized for surveillance, contact tracing and care.”

The examples are aplenty, including Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Senegal, Spain, Vietnam and more, said Tedros pointing out that many of them had done well “because they learned lessons from previous outbreaks of SARS, MERS, measles, polio, Ebola, flu and other diseases.”

Upcoming review

Meanwhile, the Review Committee of the International Health Regulations will start its work on Tuesday, he said, adding that the IHR was the most important legal instrument in global health security.

The review committee will evaluate the functioning of the IHR during the pandemic so far, and recommend any changes it believes are necessary, he said. Depending on progress made, the committee may present an interim progress report to the resumed World Health Assembly in November, and a final report to the Assembly in May next year, he added.

Published on September 08, 2020

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