It has been a roller-coaster ride for Victorians this month with the resurgence of COVID-19 diagnoses and community spread. We need to remain vigilant in our effort as doctors to protect ourselves, our families and our patients and we also need to check up on our friends and colleagues during this period of uncertainty.
The World Health Organisation 73rd World Health Assembly took place in Geneva on 18-19 May 2020 via Zoom. I had the privilege of attending, as one of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) representatives. The WHO President, Dr Tedros, opened with the acknowledgment of the year of Nurse & Midwife. Following his address, the leaders of nations of the world each spoke, defining this pandemic as the crisis of our time. Although proud of the progress WHO has made, much more needs to be done. Speakers mentioned the grief we feel for those we have lost, and that we should face this with the determination to overcome it together. Our efforts will bring hope for future. Despite pandemics that have occurred in the past, this is the first coronavirus. It was described as dangerous, efficient, fast and fatal. Dr Tedros urged us to be diligent and learn from the patterns repeated in cities and countries globally. He pointed out that countries that have done it well have done it all, such as social distancing, hand hygiene, contact tracing, quarantine and screening of populations. It is evident that a whole of government and society response is required to keep people safe. COVID-19 is a threat to human health and human spirit. We have a long road ahead in our struggle – it is straining the bond of friendship between nations but should not break them. What sort of world do we want and what sort of WHO do we want? The answer to the first question will determine the response to the second. Now we need a healthier, safer, fairer world more than ever. Dr Tedros emphasised the need to isolate and trace every contact. Special attention is required for refugees, refugee camps, nursing homes, prison and detention centres; in other words, the most vulnerable. Little was mentioned regarding the plight of women and children and the rise in domestic violence due to social distancing.
Dr Tedros proceeded to outline the WHO response stating that the WHO issued guidance within 10 days of the New Year calling a global emergency in January with less than 100 cases and no disease outside of China. WHO provided the latest advice and shipped diagnostics to more than 120 countries and trained more that 2.6 million workers. The WHO called the Accelerator for Vaccine Trials (ACT), and empowered people by combating myth with reliable information. The WHO has consistently called for national and global solidarity. We all have lessons to learn. Each country must learn from its response, and WHO will also learn from this feedback. This is a changing system.
This was the first WHO report on this pandemic with several recommendations that have been issued. The proposed resolution is for:
- Stepwise impartial inquiry into response of all nations in good faith and an independent evaluation will be instigated.
- To learn lessons, inform practices and to improve national pandemic preparedness to pandemic response.
- We need a comprehensive framework for pandemic preparedness and sustained committment to use the resources WHO has. Even though this has been an issue in the past; this must be resolved.
- Supporting and financing the WHO so that it can be agile and focussed.
- We have learned already from SARS / MERS and Ebola. The world doesn’t need another plan, committee or system.
- The world must never be the same.
The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic should never have happened. A global treaty that underpins global health security already exists, however we must all commit to accountability and ownership. To achieve this, the Africa group proposed a system of periodic review of each nation’s preparedness.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to provide clean water and universal health coverage should be declared a global commitment. The world is off track for SDGs, and gender equality and poverty are all going to be harder to achieve. COVID-19 has set us back but it must not be an excuse to abandon our SDG goals. We must redouble our efforts for the healthier, safer fairer world we all want. The GAVI Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) is a global health partnership of public and private sector organisations dedicated to “immunisation for all”, which has supported vaccinations and prevented 13 million deaths. Dr Tedros calls on global community to support GAVI to be fully funded for life saving work.
COVID-19 proves that the Social Determinants of Health (SDH) need to be addressed, and this can only occur through meeting SDGs. This pandemic reminds us that investing in health should be at the centre of development for every nation.
Health is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
Health is not a reward for development.
Health is not a cost; it is an investment.
Health is a pathway to prosperity and peace.
Anything is possible.