26 May 2020
Countries Commit to Work Together to Combat COVID-19 at World Health Assembly
Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash
story highlights

The 73rd WHA convened virtually, bringing together 14 Heads of State as well as health ministers.

The Assembly adopted a resolution that provides a road map for controlling the virus and calls for an independent evaluation of the global response.

President Xi Jinping highlighted China's provision of USD 2 billion over two years to help with the COVID-19 response, particularly in developing countries.

Delegates attending the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) called for intensifying efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and for equitable access to, and fair distribution of, essential health technologies and products. A resolution adopted by countries on the response to COVID-19 provides a road map for controlling the virus, and calls for an independent evaluation of the global response, including the performance of the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHA 73 convened from 18-19 May 2020, in a virtual format due to the ongoing pandemic. It brought together 14 Heads of State as well as health ministers. 

Addressing the Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the fragility of coordinated global efforts, as exposed by the virus, is also apparent in “our failed response” to the climate crisis. He urged more unity in responding to the pandemic, saying countries have followed different and sometimes contradictory strategies, with many ignoring WHO recommendations, causing the virus to spread. Guterres called for: a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive health response; policies to address the social and economic dimensions of the crisis; a focus on women, older people, children, low-wage earners, and other vulnerable groups; and the G20 to launch a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive stimulus package. He said the pandemic recovery provides an opportunity to address the climate crisis and to build back better, focusing on clean energy and stronger social safety nets. He pointed to the ACT Accelerator, a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. He added that an inquiry into how the coronavirus spread so rapidly, as called for by some countries, would be premature.
In his address to the 73rd Assembly, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the disruption to health systems caused by COVID-19 threatens to reverse progress made against maternal and child mortality, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases, mental health, and polio. He highlighted: the challenging circumstances of low-income countries, small island developing States (SIDS), and those suffering from violence and conflict; that countries that move too fast – i.e. without the ability to detect and suppress transmission – risk crippling their recovery; and that the majority of the world’s population remains vulnerable to the virus. Tedros also emphasized the need for commitment and capacity to find, isolate, test, and care for every case, and trace and quarantine every contact, as well as special attention to vulnerable groups, including people living in nursing homes, refugee camps, prisons, and detention centers. He said the pandemic exploits and exacerbates gaps in gender equality, poverty, hunger, and education, increasing the difficulty of meeting the SDGs. Therefore, investing in health must be at the center of development.

Tedros referred to the interim report on the WHO’s response to COVID-19 prepared by the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme. He pledged to initiate an independent evaluation, as called for in the WHA resolution, to improve pandemic preparedness and response, and welcomed efforts to strengthen global health security and the WHO itself. He mentioned the upcoming launch of the WHO Academy to provide training for more health workers, and of the WHO Foundation to broaden the organization’s donor base. 

Xi Jinping, President of China, said his government is providing USD 2 billion over two years to help with the COVID-19 response, particularly in developing countries. 

The resolution adopted during the Assembly session calls on countries to, inter alia:

  • implement a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response to the pandemic;
  • provide reliable and comprehensive information on COVID-19;
  • take measures to counter misinformation and disinformation as well as malicious cyber activities;
  • provide access to safe testing, treatment, and palliative care for COVID-19;
  • leverage digital technologies for the response to COVID-19;
  • provide the WHO with timely, accurate, and sufficiently detailed public health information related to COVID-19;
  • promote both private sector and government-funded research and development, particularly on vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, and to share relevant information with the WHO; and
  • provide sustainable funding to the WHO so it can respond to public health needs in the global response to COVID-19.

It calls on international organizations and other stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop, test, and scale-up production of safe, effective, and affordable diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines.

The resolution calls on the WHO Director-General to: work with the UN Secretary-General and relevant multilateral organizations on a comprehensive and coordinated response across the UN system; identify and provide options for scaling up the development, manufacture, and distribution capacities needed for providing access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines; ensure global access to medicines, vaccines, and medical equipment to face COVID-19; and initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, a process of impartial, independent, and comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19. [UN News story on resolution] [WHO news story] [WHA 73 statements and news] [UN News story on Tedros, Guterres statements]

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