At this time of the year, health ministers from 194 countries normally gather in Geneva for the World Health Assembly (WHA), the World Health Organisation’s decision-making body; But there isn’t anything ‘normal’ in the world today; including the WHO.
For the first time, the World Health Assembly convened by teleconference for its 73rd annual meeting, and its focus as expected, was almost exclusively on strengthening global coordination against the Covid-19 pandemic which has infected more than 4.7 million people, killing over 300,000 people, and brought the world economy to a stand-still.
At the recently concluded WHA, the WHO’s 194 member states overwhelmingly approved a European Union-led resolution on Covid-19 which called for an equitable and timely access to any treatments or vaccines. It also called for a comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19 as well as for an investigation into the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population.
The WHO’s role in containing Covid-19 pandemic which had become a hot political issue over the past couple of months also played out during the two-day 73rdWorld Health Assembly with calls for an independent investigation into the WHO’s coordination and advisory role especially at the outbreak of the pandemic.
The Director-General, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that he supported a review and that the health body would conduct one at the earliest appropriate moment.
“We all have lessons to learn from the pandemic,” he said. “Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience. WHO is committed to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement.”
Presidents of Switzerland, China, France, South Korea, South Africa, the Chancellor of Germany and the Prime Minister of Barbados also addressed the Assembly, calling for global unity and a stronger role for the WHO in the fight against Covid-19 crisis. Almost all of those who spoke endorsed the leadership of the WHO under the Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in the way Covid-19 has been managed.
“Director-General Tedros, as you go through this crisis, be assured that you have Switzerland’s full support and cooperation”, the Swiss President stated. “Our support to you is based on our commitment to multilateralism, solidarity and international cooperation. Today, more than ever, these things are absolutely essential and they need to be strengthened”, she added.
In his remarks, the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, calling for global unity in the fight against the pandemic stated that “Covid-19 has robbed us of people we love…it threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation. But it has also reminded us that for all differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.”
The 73rd World Health Assembly has once again demonstrated how, in a globalised world, crises too are global and the virus pays no heed to national borders. From a unanimous adoption of the resolution to convening a virtual meeting, which held across 24 time zones to ensure that no one was left behind in the fight against Covid-19, the message that global unity is the most powerful tool to combat the Covid-19 outbreak has been very resounding.
If history is any guide, coordinated efforts and the upholding of global unity & solidarity are needed now more than ever to defeat Covid-19.