As the 75th edition of the World Health Assembly (WHA75) officially kicked off on Sunday in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said a total of 154 healthcare workers have died in less than five months in 2022.
This is as the global health body also disclosed that a total of 373 health facilities were attacked and 131 healthcare workers have suffered various degrees of injury within the same period.
The WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, stated this in his remark during the opening ceremony of the annual event on Sunday afternoon.
Mr Ghebreyesus said this to reiterate the pertinence of the theme for this year’s global assembly of health experts, leaders of governments, and representatives of development partners and civil society organisations.
The theme for this year’s weeklong event is; “Health for Peace, Peace for Health.” And it is billed to end on Saturday, May 28, 2022.
The assembly is the highest decision-making body of WHO.
While emphasising the importance of peace, Mr Ghebreyesus, said: “So far this year, WHO has verified 373 attacks on health in 14 countries and territories, claiming the lives of 154 health workers and patients and leaving 131 injured.
“Even WHO is targeted. In 2019, our colleagues- Dr Richard Masako from Cameroon and Belinda Casa Kasongo from DRC were murdered in DRC, while working to protect others from Ebola.”
He described attacks on health workers and health facilities as a breach of international humanitarian law. “But they are also an assault on the right to help in Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere.”
He said WHO is working “in conflict zones to deliver medicines, equipment, training, and technical advice to support care for those who needed to treat the wounded, to give pregnant women the conditions for a safe and supportive birth, to make sure children receive routine vaccinations, and to support health workers who continue to deliver life-saving services in the most difficult circumstances.”
“Peace, only medication for health”
In his emotion-laden speech, the WHO director-general described himself as a child of war, even as he narrated his ugly experiences as an infant who was, along with his family, trapped in the war that ravaged his home country of Ethiopia.
He also recalled in 1998 when another round of war broke out in his country, and how his children also suffered his fate by taking refuge in the bunkers.
He said: “I’m a child of war. The sound of gunfire and shells whistling through the air, the smell of smoke after they struck tracer bullets in the night sky, the fear, the pain, the loss. These things have stayed with me throughout my life. Because I was in the middle e of war when I was very young, maybe 10, maybe 11, maybe nine… I feel the same pain and loss again now. With war in my homeland once again, not only a child o war but following me throughout.”
Mr Ghebreyesus decried the situations in Ukraine, Sand Syria, and Ethiopia, among other countries currently in a war, saying hunger and diseases are familiar features of wars.
He said as much as lasting solutions are required to end the wars wherever they may be happening, the only medication is peace.
“But ultimately, the one medicine that’s most needed is the one that WHO cannot deliver, peace. Peace is a prerequisite for health,” he said.
He, therefore, called on all world leaders to see peace as the lasting solution to health challenges globally.
The director-general also spoke about the pandemic and the challenges it posed to the world.
He challenged the global leaders to pursue equitable distribution of vaccines, even as he called on low- and middle-income countries to “turn vaccines to vaccinations.”
He said the vaccine hesitancy being recorded across these countries has been linked to misinformation and disinformation and called on the governments of the concerned countries to increase the vaccination campaigns towards achieving 70 per cent of population vaccination globally.
“Only 57 countries have vaccinated 70 per cent of their population, and almost all of them are high-income countries. We must continue to support all countries to reach 7of 0 per cent vaccination coverage as soon as possible, including 100 per cent of those aged over 60; 100 per cent of health workers, and 100 per cent of those with underlying conditions,” the WHO DG said.
Kenya President speaks
Among other world leaders who spoke at the event was the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who knocked the leadership of the high-income nations for what he described as inequity in the vaccination against the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Kenyatta said about 1.8 billion people in low- and middle-income countries are yet to take the first st dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
He said the world cannot claim victory over the pandemic until every single country is free of the virus.
He urged the world leaders to consider means to address the challenges posed by diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases. He said Africa is a continent faced with the consequences of these diseases.
He also spoke about local manufacturing of medications and vaccines taken on the continent, and called on WHO to ensure appropriate legislations and protocols that will support such ideas.
The WHA is the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The main function of the assembly is to determine the policies of the organisation, appoint the Director-General, supervise financial policies and review and approve the proposed programme budget.
At this year’s assembly, the first five-year tenure of the incumbent director-general will end, and he has been nominated for reelection by an appropriate organ of the global body.
Other vice-presidents from various countries and chairmen for various relevant committees, will also be elected at the forum, which ends on Saturday.
The host nation, Switzerland, will today (Sunday) host the participants to dinner as announced by the leadership of the country.
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