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Prepare for future pandemics, WHO Chief urges in end of year message

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged countries around the world to adequately prepare for the emergence of future pandemics.

Tedros noted that the COVID-19 pandemic marked a turning point for the world following three years of crisis, pain and loss.

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“In terms of emergency preparedness and response, gaps remain in the world’s readiness to prevent the next pandemic. But 2024 offers a unique opportunity to address these gaps,” said Tedros.

The WHO Chief revealed that governments are negotiating the first-ever global agreement to protect communities, countries and the world from the threat posed by pandemics.

The Pandemic Accord is being designed to bridge the gaps in global collaboration, cooperation and equity.

“The Accord, and plans to strengthen the International Health Regulations, represent monumental actions by governments to create a safer and healthier world,” he stated.

Tedros further highlighted 2023 as a year of “immense and avoidable suffering and threats to health” due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war as well as the Ukraine war.

“The barbaric attacks by Hamas on Israel on the 7th of October left around 1300 people dead and over 200 taken hostage. Reports of gender-based violence and mistreatment of hostages are deplorable,” he said

“This was followed by the unleashing of a devastating attack on Gaza, which has killed more than 20,000 people – mainly women and children – and injured over 53,000,” he added.

Tedros expressed concern over impact of the crisis on hospitals and health workers have noting that as of 22 December, only 9 of 36 health facilities in Gaza were partially functional, with only four offering the most basic of services in the north.

“Without peace, there is no health, and without health there can be no peace,” he said.

Tedros also pointed out achievements such as the end of the M-POX outbreak as a global health emergency and the approval of new vaccines for malaria, dengue and meningitis, which threaten millions around the world, mainly the most vulnerable.

Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Belize were declared malaria free, and a range of neglected tropical diseases were eliminated in multiple countries, including sleeping sickness in Ghana, trachoma in Benin, Mali and Iraq, and lymphatic filariasis in Bangladesh and Lao.

“The path to eradicating another vaccine-preventable disease – polio – has reached its last mile. Thirty more countries introduced the HPV vaccine as the world advances toward eliminating cervical cancer,” he said.

He said there was need to address the health impacts of the climate crisis noting that for the first time, health issued featured prominently on the agenda of COP28 held in Dubai, where global declaration was issued on climate and health.

Additionally, Heads of State at the United Nations General Assembly committed to advance universal health coverage, end tuberculosis and protect the world from future pandemics.

“Each of these achievements, and many more, demonstrated the power of science, solutions and solidarity to protect and promote health,” he stated.

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