In opening this year’s World Health Assembly, WHO General-Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed the importance of universal health coverage as an essential component in the quest for a healthier, safer, fairer world. Nearly 4,000 delegates from WHO’s 194 member states were on hand to hear the WHO chief outline the main health achievements of the past year, and current as well as future challenges.
Tedros campaigned vigorously for the adoption of universal health coverage in the run-up to last year’s election for WHO director-general. Now a year later, he told delegates attending the World Health Assembly that great progress toward achieving national health systems has been made under his watch.
He cited ambitious initiatives which have been implemented or are in the process of being enacted in countries as diverse as Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Egypt and El Salvador.
But he noted that universal health coverage is not possible without primary health care. He said primary health care is where the battle for human health is won or lost.
“Strong primary health care is the front line in defending the right to health, including sexual and reproductive rights. It is through strong primary care that countries can prevent, detect and treat noncommunicable diseases. It is through strong primary health care that outbreaks can be detected and stopped before they become epidemics,” Tedros said.
Over the past year, Tedros said significant progress has been made against many of the world’s causes of death and disease. He said a historic milestone has been achieved with the rollout of the world’s first malaria vaccine in Malawi and Ghana.
He said a new initiative was launched to eliminate cervical cancer, which kills more than 300,000 women every year. He said battles have been won against a number of infectious and noncommunicable diseases.
At the same time, he noted many emergencies remain to be addressed. Among them, he said, is the fight to contain the deadly Ebola virus in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
He said the risk of Ebola spreading to other areas remains very high, even though better tools than ever, such as preventive vaccines, are available to fight this deadly disease.
“But we are not just fighting a virus. We are fighting insecurity. We are fighting violence. We are fighting misinformation. We are fighting mistrust. And we are fighting the politicization of an outbreak,” he said.
Tedros noted Ebola treatment centers have been attacked by armed men, and a WHO doctor was killed in one of these attacks. Despite the many dangers, he said WHO and its staff remain undeterred and will continue their work until the job is finished. (VOA)