Last week governments gathered for the WHO’s 74th World Health Assembly after a year marked by governments being occupied with responding and managing several waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here we list our main takeaways from the debates relevant for antimicrobial resistance, access to medicines and vaccines, and pandemic preparedness and response.
1. Global vaccine inequality dominated the WHA74
One issue that dominated most of this year’s discussions was the inequitable global vaccine distribution and its consequences.
General Director for the WHO dr. Tedros noted in his opening remarks that
“…doses administered globally so far would have been enough to clever all healthcare workers and older people, if they had been distributed equitably”.
In the following debates one low-and middle-income country after the other took the floor with testaments of the desperate situation on the ground of responding to the pandemic with the necessary tools to keep medical personnel safe and to treat patients often being in shortages, and lack of access to the vaccines volume needed to bring the pandemic under control.
The contrasts between rich and poor countries were stark. Mozambique for example, home to 31 million people, noted that they so far have been able to vaccinate less than 1% of their population. Several low-and middle-income countries noted that the global distribution mechanism COVAX that many rely on for getting access to vaccines, was insufficient and hampered by delays. Israel, in contrast, noted that they were so far in vaccine roll-out that they plan to lift all COVID19-related restrictions in coming weeks, and simultaneously called for vaccine passports to be strengthened as a measure to be able to prevent importing the virus through travellers.
2. Antimicrobial resistance
Against the backdrop of the ongoing and – as noted by many countries – still overwhelming COVID-19 pandemic, attention to other global health threats, such as antimicrobial resistance, continued to be limited. However one silver lining in the debate was the increasing number of Non-State Actors taking the floor to make intervention on antimicrobial resistance including new stakeholders in the field such as the Union for International Cancer Control. ReAct has focused on mobilizing other adjacent communities on antimicrobial resistance, and in particular the cancer community, over the past years, and is therefore very encouraged to see the field of actors concerned about antimicrobial resistance grow.
Another highlight from the discussions was the Germany announcement to commit additional €4 million to the Tripartite and the Multi-Partner Trust Fund bringing total contributions to this mechanism up to nearly 20 million USD in support of implementation efforts of national action plans in low-and middle-income countries.
Finally, a number of countries also called for more critical and comprehensive global evaluation of countries’ and WHO’s work on antimicrobial resistance, including a critical review of the Global Action Plan, the need to establish key performance indicators, as well as ensuring that monitoring and evaluation of the WHO’s work should be done by external reviewers. This point has been a key issue for ReAct to highlight as noted in our briefing to the 148th WHO Executive Board in January this year.
3. Pandemic treaty proposal moving forward
A large number of countries from all income groups took the floor in support of the proposal made ahead of the WHA to establish a new global pandemic treaty or similar legal framework to strengthen global preparedness and response. The Assembly decided to hold a special session in November this year dedicated to further discuss the merits of a new global legal framework and in preparation of these discussions a Member States Working Group should be tasked with assessing the pros and cons of developing a pandemic treaty.
Ahead of the WHA74, ReAct developed and circulated a briefing to Member States on the obvious overlaps between interventions needed to strengthen global pandemic preparedness and response and antibiotic resistance. As such, it will be important for a new legal framework to also include antibiotic resistance in its scope, if it moves forward. The political momentum to act multilaterally to prevent a new pandemic should be used to tackle antibiotic resistance, which is increasingly referred to as “the silent pandemic”.
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