World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns global health challenges are growing and threatening the well-being of millions of people worldwide. He spoke at the opening of WHO’s week-long executive board meeting.
The WHO chief began his presentation on a somber note. He told meeting participants that an emergency committee convened to assess the status of the pandemic has concluded that COVID-19 remains a global health emergency.
He said the situation is much better now than a year ago when the omicron variant of the coronavirus was at its peak. But, he added, weekly reported deaths have been rising since early December. He said more than 170,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the past eight weeks.
“And that is just the reported deaths. We know the actual number is much higher. We cannot control the virus, but we can do more to address the vulnerabilities in populations and health systems.”
Tedros said health providers have the knowledge and means to control the spread of other diseases as well. He outlined an ambitious program for promoting health and protecting people from diseases. These, as well as other proposals for how the world can better prepare and respond to future health emergencies will be under discussion by member countries this week.
Tedros said progress has been made over the past year in promoting health, by addressing the root causes of disease. He called this action essential in achieving a target set by WHO of seeing one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.
“On trans-fat, we have seen an almost five-fold increase in the number of people protected by WHO-recommended policies on the use of industrially produced trans-fat, from 550 million people to 2.6 billion, in just four years. But as you know, still five billion are unprotected.”
Last year, he said, WHO reached the target it set to support 100 million tobacco users in stopping smoking. He noted, however, this left an estimated 600 million users who want to kick the habit and need support.
Tedros presented numerous examples of key health achievements in both communicable and non-communicable diseases. He also acknowledged setbacks in many of these same areas, indicating the necessity of remaining alert and responding rapidly to health emergencies whenever and wherever they may arise.