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WHO's call to prioritize Health at the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78)

By Roberta Fortugno

The United Nations General Assembly held three high-level discussions on health in September 2023. The UN High-Level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response (PPPR) involved all government sectors to discuss preventing and preparing for pandemics, focusing on equity, governance, accountability, capacity building, and sustainable financing. The High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, held on September 21, reviewed the 2019 Political Declaration implementation and identified gaps for universal health coverage by 2030. Finally, the High-Level Meeting on the fight against tuberculosis, held on September 22, analyzed the achievement of TB targets and identified areas that require attention in order to effectively end the pandemic by 2030 and ensure equitable access to prevention, testing, treatment, and care.

The United Nations is dedicated to enhancing measures for the prevention, preparedness, and response to pandemics through a range of initiatives. The objectives include the promotion of regional and worldwide collaboration, the guarantee of fair and equal access to medical countermeasures, and the active support for social justice and protective measures. It is committed to aiding Africa in addressing outbreaks, providing cost-effective medications, and providing high-standard healthcare; it also emphasizes intellectual property rights, technology transfer, and research. The United Nations aims to eliminate trade barriers, enhance supply chain resilience, and promote unobstructed trade, by highlighting public health manufacturing capabilities, equitable distribution of pathogen benefits, and healthcare accessibility. The UN also advocates for a multisectoral strategy, sustainable finance mechanisms, stakeholder involvement, and a One Health approach, underlining information accessibility, pandemic prevention, and financial mobilization.

Heads of state and government are reviewing the 2019 political Declaration on universal health coverage at the United Nations to identify gaps and solutions for achieving it by 2030. The Declaration emphasizes the right to high-quality physical and mental health, the need for a comprehensive approach, and the importance of health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The World Health Assembly resolution 76.4 calls for political leadership for whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches. The global health system faces significant financing gaps, with corruption undermining resource mobilization and causing a shortage of health workers. Strengthening the WHO Global Code of Practice on International Recruitment of Health Personnel is crucial for a resilient health system, and the United Nations aims to achieve universal health coverage by 2030, focusing on primary health care. The text emphasizes the private sector's role in research and development, urging developing countries to build expertise and strengthen local production. The text also calls for innovative financing mechanisms for health research and development, adequate external finances, and strong global partnerships.

The UN executives and member states have reaffirmed their commitment to end the tuberculosis epidemic by 2030, highlighting the need for urgent global responses. The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges progress in tuberculosis research and innovation, including shorter preventive treatments and drug-resistant regimens. However, access to essential drugs is limited. The WHO supports technological breakthroughs to reduce global tuberculosis incidence to 17% annually, with the final aim to eradicate tuberculosis by 2027 by improving health product availability, affordability, and efficiency. Nowadays, funding for research is only half of the agreed 2 billion US dollars, and the WHO is strengthening its multisectoral accountability framework, increasing awareness, and supporting people diagnosed with the disease. To entirely eliminate tuberculosis by 2030, the United Nations is focusing on a comprehensive approach that integrates screening, prevention, treatment, and care within the framework of primary health care. This approach places particular emphasis on the integration of innovative methods and practices.

With millions lacking access to lifesaving interventions and extreme poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is not on schedule to meet its health goals by 2030. As government leaders convene to pledge support for three significant health concerns, they have the opportunity to demonstrate that health is a critical focal point for investments to allow for the growth and resilience of families, society, and economies.

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