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WHO Hopes To Declare Health Pandemics Emergencies Over In 2023

The World Health Organization (WHO) is continuously reassuring and giving a glimmer of hope and courage that most health pandemics and outbreaks emergencies will be declared over at different points during the year 2023.

WHO’s Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said that people globally have experienced numerous challenges in the health sector in 2022. He pointed out that there are still many reasons to remain hopeful as the world collectively fights the spontaneous pandemics as the year draws closer to an end.

Some of the key pandemics and outbreaks he highlighted are the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a global outbreak of monkeypox, and Ebola outbreak in Uganda, wars in Ethiopia and Ukraine, cholera outbreaks in multiple countries, drought and flooding in the greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel, flooding in Pakistan, and numerous other health emergencies.

“We are hopeful that each of these emergencies will be declared over at different points next year. That’s not to mention the multiple other threats to health that people face year in, and year out, in the air they breathe, the products they consume, the conditions in which they live and work, and in their lack of access to essential health services,” Tedros highlighted during a virtual media briefing on December 21.

Significantly, Dr Tedros noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly declined this year, the global monkeypox outbreak is waning, and there have been no cases of Ebola in Uganda for more than three weeks.

“Certainly, we are in a much better place with the pandemic than we were a year ago, when we were in the early stages of the Omicron wave, with rapidly increasing cases and deaths. But since the peak at the end of January, the number of weekly reported COVID-19 deaths has dropped almost 90 percent,” Dr.Tedros emphasized.

However, Tedros raised his concern that there still exist too many uncertainties and gaps for us to conclusively say the pandemic is over. These gaps are in surveillance, testing and sequencing, which brings out a lack of better understanding of how the virus is changing.

Pointedly, gaps experienced in vaccination mean that millions of people, mostly health workers and older people will remain at higher risk of contracting and succumbing to severe diseases.

Of great concern, Dr Tedros posits that gaps in treatment mean that people will continue to die needlessly, gaps in health systems leave them unable to cope with surges in patients with COVID-19, flu and other diseases.

Gaps in our understanding of post-COVID-19 conditions, mean we do not understand how best to treat people suffering from the long-term consequences of infection. And notably, gaps in our understanding of how this pandemic began to compromise our ability to prevent future pandemics.

“As I have said many times before, all hypotheses about the origins of this pandemic remain on the table. At the same time, WHO is very concerned over the evolving situation in China, with increasing reports of severe disease,” Dr.Tedros explained.

He advises that in order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground, WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for ICU support.

In this way, WHO is supporting China to focus its efforts on vaccinating people at the highest risk across the country, and will continue to offer its support for clinical care and protecting its health system.

In a positive move, WHO has created a new Pandemic Fund and Nations have committed to negotiating a legally binding accord on pandemic preparedness and response. Additionally, it has established the mRNA Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa, to provide low- and lower-middle income countries the know-how to rapidly produce their own mRNA vaccines.

WHO reports that the global outbreak of monkeypox (mpox) has seen over 83,000 cases from 110 countries, and the mortality rate remains low with 66 deaths.

“As with COVID-19 the number of weekly reported cases of mpox has declined more than 90 percent from the peak. If the current trend continues, we are hopeful that next year we will also be able to declare an end to this emergency,’’ Dr Tedros reassured while adding that they intend to declare over the Ebola outbreak in Uganda on the 11th of January if there are no new cases detected and no patients being treated since 27th of November.

The Government of Uganda, with support from WHO is now focusing its energies on surveillance maintenance and being prepared for any emergent cases.

Similarly, WHO is working with its partners in the greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel, to address the food crisis, and driving outbreaks of cholera, yellow fever, measles and vaccine-derived polio which have sprouted due to climate-related drought and flooding.

To holistically solve this on the ground, WHO is currently providing access to basic health services, treatment for severe malnutrition and support for countries to prevent, detect and respond to outbreaks.

Sadly, WHO has also singled out global conflicts which continue to jeopardize the health and well-being of millions of people as experienced in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. This contributed to WHO verifying more than 1000 attacks on health in 16 countries, with 220 deaths and 436 injuries in 2022.

The global health body warns that continued attacks on health are a violation of international humanitarian law and a violation of human rights. This hugely contributes to depriving people of the requisite care they need most.

This year, WHO continues to support the rollout of the world’s first malaria vaccine-reaching more than 1 million children in Africa, and further supported countries to introduce new legislation or taxation to combat health-harming products including tobacco, trans fats and sugary drinks.

Crucially, the WHO published life-saving guidance on HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, maternal and newborn health, safe abortion and many more. In addition, they are continuing to raise the alarm on increasing resistance in bacterial infections and published the first list of priority fungal infections threatening public health.

During the just-concluded World Cup in Qatar, WHO partnered with FIFA which enabled them to reach billions of people globally with campaigns promoting health.

To bolster and safeguard the future of WHO, the Member States have committed to increasing their assessed contributions (or membership fees) to 50 percent of its base budget over the next decade- from just the present 16 percent.

Laudably, this will give WHO the much-needed sustainable funding, enabling it to deliver long-term programming in countries and to attract and retain the world-class experts they need.

WHO affirms that the health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and security and they are dedicated to protecting and promoting the health of the world’s people.

 By Rolex Omondi and Robert Ojwang’



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