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New global action pledge to end TB by 2030

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2023, Health - Applause rang out in one of the main conference rooms at UN headquarters on Friday as world leaders, civil society representatives and other stakeholders approved a declaration to advance efforts to end tuberculosis (TB) by 2030.
The document lays out ambitious new targets for the next five years that include reaching 90 per cent of people with TB prevention and care services, providing social benefit packages to those who have the disease, and licensing at least one new vaccine.

TB is the second leading infectious killer worldwide after COVID-19, with some 1.6 million deaths in 2021 alone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The only available vaccine  is more than a century old.

Defeating a killer

“Why, after all the progress we have made – from sending man to the moon, to bringing the world to our fingertips – have we been unable to defeat a preventable and curable disease that kills over 4,400 people a day?” said the President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis.

TB has afflicted humanity for millennia, going by several names including the white plague and consumption.  

It is caused by bacteria and mainly affects the lungs, and treatment is with antibiotics.  A WHO council established to facilitate the development and equitable use of new vaccines met for the first time this week.

A personal commitment

Stamping out the TB epidemic is among the health targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the roadmap for a more just and green global future by the end of the decade.

Five years ago, countries set the target of delivering TB treatment to 40 million people, reaching 34 million. They also aimed to provide 30 million with preventive treatment but fell short by half.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed called for action to tackle the main drivers of TB - poverty, undernutrition, lack of access to healthcare, the prevalence of HIV infections, diabetes, mental health, and smoking.

Stigma surrounding the disease also needs to be reduced so that people can get help without fear of discrimination, she added, while governments must ensure universal health coverage that includes TB screening, prevention and treatment.  

Ms. Mohammed also shared her own reason for supporting the global fight.

"My commitment is my personal story: losing my father to TB at 50, 37 years ago this week,” she said.  “Today we have the tools to diagnose, treat, and what we need right now is a vaccine. Let's end TB now. It is possible.”

Stigma fuels death

Mongolian author Handaa Rea, who has survived the disease, urged world leaders to “treat TB not only medically but also socially.”

She has written about her own experience of TB-related stigma, discrimination that she said is prevalent in many developing countries, resulting in “hundreds of thousands of people” delaying seeking treatment.

The consequences of stigma are “more enhanced” for women and girls who are held to higher standards of health, well-being and beauty, she added.

“When society says things like ‘she's too skinny, because she has TB, she's unworthy of marriage because she has or had TB, or she continues to have TB because she's irresponsible,’ we as a society are bullying TB patients one step closer to death - a death that is fully preventable. And this has to stop,” she said.

The ‘final chapter’

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the “amazing” energy in the room, where participants frequently chanted “End TB, yes we can!”

He welcomed the political declaration, which was agreed by consensus ahead of the meeting.  It will be presented to the General Assembly, the UN’s most representative organ, comprising all 193 Member States.

“For millennia, our ancestors have suffered and died with tuberculosis, without knowing what it was, what caused it, or how to stop it,” he said.

“Today, we have knowledge and tools they could only have dreamed of.  We have political commitment.  And we have an opportunity that no generation in the history of humanity has had: the opportunity to write the final chapter in the story of TB.” 


UN calls for ‘clear-eyed’ vision for peace and security, as peacebuilders meet in New York

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2023, Peace and Security - Following the UN chief’s appeal this week for a fresh approach to global peace and security, UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) countries convened on Friday to discuss the best way forward.
The Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace aims to address these complex challenges through multilateralism, rooted in the UN Charter and international law, centred on trust, solidarity, and universality.

It comes amid criticism from some Member States that the UN is no longer playing an effective role in peacebuilding and peacekeeping, as calls for overall reform of institutions like the Security Council grow louder.

Prioritize diplomacy

Representing the UN chief at the meeting, that brought together ministers from Member States and countries on the Commission’s agenda, political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo explained the details of the plan.

“Our goal is to present a unifying vision for peace and security – one that is clear-eyed about the magnitude of today’s challenges, and which addresses the concerns and priorities of different constituencies,’ she said.

The core of this vision is a call for Member States to prioritize diplomacy, conflict prevention, and peacebuilding, for which comprehensive strategies, political courage and strong partnerships backed by sustainable resources and national leadership are a must. 

The Commission, an intergovernmental advisory body launched in 2005, plays a crucial role in supporting peace efforts in conflict-affected countries.

Consisting of 31 Member States elected from the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the Economic and Social Council, it brings together top donors and troop-contributing countries.

Three pillars of peacebuilding

“Above all, greater trust – among Member States, among people and in the institution of the United Nations itself – is essential,” underscored Ms.DiCarlo, presenting an approach to conflict prevention and peacebuilding that rests on three principles. 

Recognizing the broad impact of violence, A New Agenda for Peace urges all Member States to work tirelessly to silence the guns. 

It emphasizes that prevention should involve all countries, not just those in conflict, calling on every State to develop national strategies.

Lastly, it stresses that prevention must “be nationally led and owned”, addressing trust issues and aligning national priorities with international support when necessary.

Bigger role in UN overhaul

When it comes to the reform of UN bodies like the Security Council and General Assembly, the Peacebuilding Commission is given a prominent role in fostering discussions on peace and development issues, strengthening cooperation, and formalizing relationships with international financial institutions.

Advocating for more sustainable and predictable financing of peacebuilding activity, Ms. DiCarlo called also for enhanced linkages between the Commission and the Peacebuilding Fund, reminding of the commitment of the General Assembly on financing for peace.


At critical moment for peacekeeping in Africa, Ghana steps up to host key summit

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2023, Peace and Security - The UN and Ghana jointly announced on Friday that December’s UN Peacekeeping Ministerial meeting will be hosted in Accra, at a time when some African nations are questioning the value of having ‘blue helmets’ on their soil.
The gathering of defence ministers and others committed to peacekeeping efforts will focus on civilian protection, addressing misinformation and disinformation, promoting safety and security, protecting mental health, and boosting the pivotal role of women in UN missions.

Ghana’s Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, together with senior UN officials, said the flagship biennial meeting will help secure political support and generate pledges to strengthen UN Peacekeeping, in line with Action for Peacekeeping and A4P+.

The meeting is the fifth ministerial summit overall and the first to take place in Africa.

Key multilateral tool

“The 2023 Ministerial is an important opportunity for leaders to reaffirm their commitment and make pledges to UN Peacekeeping, which remains one of the most significant multilateral tools to achieve sustainable peace and development”, said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, head of UN Peace Operations. 

“We are grateful to Ghana for hosting this Ministerial meeting and for their critical contributions to strengthening our operations.” 

Peacekeeping missions are navigating major challenges including the withdrawal due to government request of MINUSMA in Mali, and MONUSCO in the DR Congo, whose president this week said he wanted blue helmets to pull out a year early, by the end of December.

Fill gaps, boost effectiveness

UN peacekeeping said the Accra summit will focus on securing concrete commitments from Member States to fill gaps, leverage new technologies, and address key priorities to improve the maximum operational effectiveness of all peacekeeping missions.

“In addition to the myriad challenges currently before us, United Nations peace operations are also at a critical juncture in preventing and addressing misconduct as a central element of performance,” said Catherine Pollard, head of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance. 

“This is a collective endeavour,” she emphasised.

Strengthening partnerships

Member States are being encouraged to create or strengthen bilateral and triangular partnerships to ensure proposed improvements are sustainable and have the required impact. 

“Ghana and Africa’s contributions to peacekeeping are advancing beyond troop contributions to offering a vital forum in which countries can unite and collaborate on innovative strategies to address current challenges and discuss the future of peacekeeping,” said Atul Khare, who heads up Operational Support for the UN.

“I look forward to the formation of partnerships amongst participants to enhance the effectiveness of our peacekeepers, elevate the quality of their medical care, and foster environmentally responsible operations.”

The meeting in Accra is the latest in a series of high-level events that have seen world leaders pledge resources to help UN peacekeeping missions fully implement their mandates.

Generous contributions by various Member States at similar meetings have helped generate rapidly deployable military units, key aviation assets, better medical capacities, and helped advance the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.


Human rights experts: Humanity facing ‘unprecedented global toxic emergency’

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2023, Climate and Environment - The consequences of poor chemicals and waste management worldwide are fuelling an “unprecedented global toxic emergency”, independent UN human rights experts have warned, ahead of a major summit next week.
The fifth session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM-5), organized by UN environment programme UNEP and hosted by Germany, kicks off in Bonn on Monday.

“ICCM-5 is expected to be a watershed moment for international cooperation on chemicals and wastes”, said a statement released by the group of more than 30 experts.  

‘Once in a generation’ chance

“It is a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a robust outcome to confront the global toxic tide.”

They urged those attending the conference to be guided by human rights principles in line with a “post-2020 global policy framework on the sound management of chemicals and wastes.”

According to the experts, “the threats of infertility, deadly illnesses, neurological and other disabilities resulting from exposure to hazardous chemicals and wastes, reveal the widespread and systematic denial of basic human rights for countless persons and groups in vulnerable situations.”

The experts went on to list people who are mostly exposed to these toxic environments, including workers, women and children, the poor and Indigenous Peoples.

‘Toxification’ must stop

“Humanity cannot afford to further aggravate the toxification of the planet,” the experts added.  

“For ICCM-5 to deliver the ambition and strength needed to overcome the global toxic emergency facing humanity, it needs to explicitly embrace a human rights-based approach,” the group of UN experts warned.

Special Rapporteurs and other UN experts are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and receive no salary for their work. 


World News in Brief: Healthcare crisis in DRC, Türk slams Iran hijab law, welcomes new India bill boosting women

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2023, Peace and Security - In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), increasing armed violence, forced displacement and devastating floods have fuelled deadly disease outbreaks and jeopardized healthcare, the UN health agency (WHO) said on Friday.
The World Health Organization’s representative to the DRC, Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, warned that in six eastern provinces, health facilities have been set alight, health workers killed and others face constant physical and psychological threats, while supplies have been looted. Heavy rain, flooding and landslides have also compromised aid access.

Dr Sambo said that the DRC is facing its worst cholera outbreak since 2017, with the eastern provinces accounting for 80 per cent of the cases. The country is also battling a major measles epidemic and the combination of measles and malnutrition was particularly deadly for children under five.

The UN health agency official said that WHO has deployed experts to the affected areas to support the authorities in investigating and responding to these outbreaks, delivered medical supplies for cholera treatment, supported transportation of samples to labs for testing, and built cholera treatment centres.

Vaccine campaign

The World Health Organization recently completed a vaccination campaign in Ituri province reaching over one million of children under five, with more campaigns to follow in Kasaï and Mai-Ndombe. 

WHO was also providing health services, including access to mental health and psychosocial support, to victims of gender-based violence. Some 23,000 cases were reported in the six provinces from January to August 2023 and Dr Sambo said that the real figures were “probably much higher”.

For a “more sustainable and resilient health response” in Eastern DRC, Dr Sambo called for stronger donor support, as the UN health agency’s response in the region was only 14 per cent funded so far.

Iran: new hijab bill must be shelved: Türk

Staying with the High Commissioner for human rights: Volker Türk said on Friday that Iran’s “draconian” Chastity and Hijab Bill “flagrantly flies in the face of international law” and must be shelved.

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses the 54th Session of the Human Rights Council.

The bill vastly increases jail terms for offenders and provides for crushing fines on women and girls who do not obey the compulsory dress code.

According to the UN rights office (OHCHR), under the new, “even stricter” bill, now in its final stage of consideration before Iran’s constitutional court, those who do not comply with country’s strict Islamic dress code on head coverings and modest clothing risk up to 10 years in jail.

Those found in breach could also be flogged, as well as fined up to an equivalent of $8,500, subjected to travel restrictions and deprived of online access.

OHCHR called the decree “repressive and demeaning”, insisting that “women and girls must not be treated as second class citizens”.

Russia expert says mandate provides ‘bridge to the Russian people’

The independent UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia, Mariana Katzarova, underscored on Friday the importance of her mandate to give a voice to victims of alleged violations in the country.

“Why is my mandate important? Because it’s also the bridge to the Russian people, to the victims, to the civil society, to those who dare speak against the war on Ukraine”, she told reporters in Geneva. 

“It’s a voice for the people of the Russian Federation, this mandate.” 

The independent Human Rights Council-appointed expert presented her first report to the Council on Thursday, sounding the alarm about what she says is a pattern of suppression of civil and political rights in Russia.

‘Persistent use of torture’

She voiced grave concerns over mass arbitrary arrests and the “persistent use of torture and ill-treatment.”

Citing almost 200 sources from inside and outside the country, the independent expert expressed concern about a lack of judicial independence and right to a fair trial.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Russia was created by the Human Rights Council in October last year, for a period of one year.

Ms. Katzarova told reporters that she thought a continuation of the mandate would be important, especially amid what she called “dark times for human rights” in Russia.

This is the first time in its history that the Council has authorised a rights expert to investigate rights violations within the borders of one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the so-called “P5”.

 Ms. Katzarova stressed that the P5 had a special responsibility to set an example for the rest of the world.

India: UN rights chief welcomes new bill to boost women in parliament

Rights chief Volker Türk welcomed on Friday the passage of a landmark bill in India which will reserve one third of seats in national and state parliaments for women.

The UN rights office (OHCHR) said that the Women’s Reservation Bill will constitutionally entrench women’s representation in parliament and be a “transformative move” for gender equality in India.

Citing India’s example, Mr. Türk called on parliamentarians around the world to adopt legislative measures – including, where necessary, gender quotas – to ensure women’s equal participation in the political discourse.

The new Bill requires ratification by at least 50 per cent of India’s states to enter into force and the UN rights office called for their “swift support” and rapid implementation of the new system.


Survivors of Libya floods grapple with trauma

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2023, UN Affairs - Post-traumatic stress and anxiety has become a daily challenge for thousands of Libyans who survived Storm Daniel nearly two weeks ago, UN humanitarians warned on Thursday.
Torrential rains from Storm Daniel on 10 September burst two dams upstream from the coastal city of Derna. According to news reports, the floods inundated as much as a quarter of the city.

Thousands were killed, with many dead bodies still reportedly under the rubble or lost at sea, according to search teams.  

In recent days the aid response has focused on collecting the dead, fearing the spread of disease, but for the tens of thousands of Derna residents who survived the flood, trauma and uncertainty is also a pressing concern said the UN aid coordination office (OCHA).

Psychological Aid

Providing psychosocial support is a priority for those living in the eastern Libya –where around 20,000 people are believed to have been killed when Storm Daniel battered Derna, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday.  

According to the agency, more than 43,000 people have been displaced by the floods. Most of them are staying with relatives in nearby areas, while some 2,780 people have traveled to Benghazi.

So much grief

On a two-day visit to Benghazi, Georgette Gagnon, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator met families who fled their flood-ravaged homes and sought safety in Benghazi, 250 kilometers away. They spoke of their loss, and of their concern both for their children’s education and of the unknown.

“It’s heart-wrenching to hear what families have gone through and the severe distress they have endured,” Ms. Gagnon said. “The mental toll is very high, and support is urgently needed to help people heal.”

In a compound a half-hour drive away from central Benghazi, She met a family of five who had arrived four days earlier. They said they found themselves in waist-deep water within seconds.

All their belongings were swept away, and they barely made it out of their home alive. Their house is gone, as are many on their street.

In addition to medical care, disease control and prevention, and the testing and analysis of water sources, psychosocial support has been identified as one of the priority needs for affected people, according to an assessment by UN agencies who were recently in Albaydha, Derna and Sousse.

Agencies on the ground

There has been some solace found by people who have recovered and identified relatives’ bodies. At least they were able to give them a proper burial.  

But with some 10,000 still missing, the mystery of those people’s fate has Derna residents left behind battling with anxiety.

UN Humanitarian agencies, including Children’s Fund UNICEF, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), The World Food Programme (WFP), The World Health Organization (WHO) and migration agency IOM), are all on the ground in Libya, providing aid to survivors in the hard-hit areas and neighboring regions. 


Funding woes continue to plague UN Palestine refugee agency

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2023, Humanitarian Aid - The head of the UN agency that assists Palestine refugees across the Middle East, UNRWA, on Thursday appealed for consistent and sustainable financing to keep its operations running and avert chronic shortfalls.
UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini was speaking at UN Headquarters alongside the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Jordan, Ayman Safadi, following a meeting to support its lifesaving work, which is almost entirely funded by donor contributions.

“It has become absolutely unbearable to deal with a situation where the needs of the Palestine refugees increase, the expectations increase, the region is hit by multiple crises, and at the same time to operate public-like services…with decreasing funding,” he said.

The tension is also fuelling “a feeling of abandonment by the international community”, he warned.

Critical support at risk

UNRWA delivers education, healthcare, protection and other services for nearly six million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

It was established in 1949 as a temporary agency to provide aid to Palestinians following mass displacement from land that became Israel, making it one of the first UN humanitarian operations.

The agency had been seeking up to $190 million by the end of the year, and another $100 million to keep food pipelines flowing in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.

Pledges announced at the meeting will sustain services until at least the end of October “which means we will have to continue to redouble our efforts to mobilize the necessary support for the agency,” Mr. Lazzarini said.

“This financial crisis makes us run after the money all the time,” he remarked.

Learning losses  

Mr. Lazzarini recently took the decision to open UNRWA schools even though he was unsure if they will remain open for the rest of the year. More than half a million children depend on the UN agency for education, its “flagship programme”.

He said education was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and austerity measures, but also violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and in refugee camps, such as the clashes between factions at the Ein El Hilweh camp in Lebanon this month.

“One indicator which I was sharing with members here today was data on the fourth grade this year. Only 20 per cent of the students reached the average for Arabic and Mathematics, whereas in 2015 it was 60 per cent,” he said.

Beacon of hope

The donor meeting, held amid the high-level week of the UN General Assembly, was organized by Jordan and Sweden.  

Mr. Safadi recalled that UNRWA will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year and still represents the only hope for Palestine refugees. He urged the international community to step up support.

“If we are still unable to establish justice for the Palestine refugees, let us at least give them a chance to live decently and in dignity,” he said. 


Armenia-Azerbaijan: UN calls for ‘credible and durable’ end to fighting in flashpoint region

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2023, Peace and Security - A senior UN official told the Security Council on Thursday that the wellbeing of civilians caught up in the long-running conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be the “overriding priority” following renewed fighting.
Miroslav Jenča told ambassadors that Azerbaijan had announced, in their words, “local counter-terrorism activities in the Karabakh economic region” two days ago, in response to the tragic deaths of two civilians and four police officers in incidents that allegedly involved landmines placed by the Armenian military.

He noted that Azerbaijan had notified the Russian peacekeeping force in the region, of its activities in a bid to “prevent large scale provocations” by Armenian troops and “ensure their withdrawal and the restoration of the constitutional order” within internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory.

‘Serious escalation’

Mr. Jenča lamented that following a “serious escalation in military operations” across the Line of Contact between the two forces, civilian casualties had been reported, as well as thousands evacuated within the flashpoint region.

He stressed that the UN has no observers in the region and was unable to verify the “various claims and allegations.”

The UN has supported the full implementation of a 9 November 2020 Trilateral Statement by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, following the ceasefire of that year, together with efforts to reduce tensions and advance the normalization of relations between Baku and Yerevan.

Mr. Jenča told the Council that in light of the 2020 Statement, Secretary-General António Guterres urges all concerned to “strictly observe” the ceasefire and continue to abide by their obligations relating to international humanitarian and human rights law.

‘Sharp exchanges’

He reminded ambassadors that in recent months the freedom of movement of local civilians and humanitarian access along the Lachin Corridor and Aghdam road, “have been major sources of tension and sharp exchanges”.

“The Secretary-General remains deeply concerned about the impact of the escalation on the fragile humanitarian situation and calls on the parties to urgently facilitate unimpeded access” of relief to all civilians, Mr. Jenča added.

He said the uptick in violence in recent days should be viewed within a “broader pattern of ceasefire violations which have continued to persist.”

‘Positive step’

Assistant Secretary-General Jenča noted Wednesday’s announcement of a cessation of hostilities, cautioning that the situation on the ground remains fluid.

“We also understand that, in a positive step, representatives of the local population and the Government of Azerbaijan met earlier today for an initial exchange.”

He called for a “credible and durable” end to the fighting. “Any renewed escalation would lead to further loss of life and human suffering and further set back internationally supported peace efforts.”

Protection of civilians including their basic human rights “must be the overriding priority.”

The only sustainable way forward, he said, was through genuine dialogue between Azerbaijan and representatives of the region, “together with full engagement in the normalization process”.


‘World's breadbaskets’ are sinking, General Assembly chief warns

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2023, Climate and Environment - Although small island States are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels, the scope of those impacted is much wider, the President of the UN General Assembly warned on Thursday.
Addressing a special summit meeting, Dennis Francis – a veteran diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago – said he was determined to make sure the issue gets the attention it deserves during his presidency.

With the climate crisis unfolding rapidly, the need for more inclusive and innovative approaches to slowing climate change, including rising seas, has been resonating throughout High Level Week. 

No exaggeration 

For many countries, especially the Small Island Developing States, the matter at hand represents an existential threat. 

“This is not a speculation or over-exaggeration. It is real,” explained Mr. Francis, substantiating his words with data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UN body assessing the science related to climate change, estimates that under current conditions the global-mean sea level is likely to rise between eight and 29 centimetres by 2030, with equatorial regions suffering the most. 

The rise is mainly driven by thermal expansion, aggravated by the melting of mountain glaciers and the ice cap, with a further rise anticipated of up to 70 cm by 2070.

Extreme sea level events which used to occur once every century could become an annual phenomenon by the close of this century. 

Not just our problem

A staggering 900 million people living in low-lying coastal zones are at risk of losing their homes due to rising sea levels and other climate effects, Mr. Francis warned, adding that the issue extends far beyond coastal communities. 

No one is immune to a potential catastrophe, he said, “fertile river deltas like the Mississippi, Mekong, and Nile – the world's breadbaskets – are sinking.”  

Collective ambition needed

Beyond the crushing impacts on livelihoods and communities, sea-level rise carries further implications, spanning environmental, legal, political, technical, economic, cultural, and human rights dimensions.  

“Not only do we risk losing land, but also the rich cultural and historical heritage of these islands and regions that have helped to shape people’s identities,” alerted Mr. Francis the dignitaries, who gathered at the early morning event.

Mr. Francis called on leaders to raise their ‘collective ambition’ and take much-needed action, and move it up the agenda at the forthcoming COP28 convening on November 30 and the SIDS (Small Island Developing States) Conference planned for 2024.  


Healthcare: Lack of universal coverage, ‘human rights tragedy on a massive scale’

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2023, Health - World leaders on Thursday agreed to boost efforts to provide universal health coverage for all by 2030.
By approving a new political declaration at UN Headquarters during the high level meeting, Member States also pledged to take concrete action and provide the necessary funding to reach the ambitious goal.

The declaration – Universal Health Coverage: expanding our ambition for health and well-being in a post-COVID world – also saw governments promise to invest political capital in the push to expand universal care.  

A political choice

Ultimately, achieving health coverage for all is a political choice, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

“But the choice is not just made on paper. It is made in budget decisions and policy decisions. Most of all, it is made by investing in primary healthcare, which is the most inclusive, equitable, and efficient path to universal health coverage,” he emphasized.

The declaration was adopted during the second of the three health summits taking place during this year’s General Assembly high-level week.

The summit on pandemic preparedness took place on Wednesday and there will be another on ending the scourge of tuberculosis scheduled for Friday.


Staggering statistics

The urgency of the declaration is evident in the staggering statistics.

At least 4.5 billion people – more than half the world’s population – are not fully covered by essential health services, according to 2021 data.

Access to basis healthcare caused financial hardship for nearly two billion people, while over 1.3 billion were pushed back or pushed deeper into poverty just trying to access basic services and medicines – a stark reality of widening health inequities, according to WHO.

A fundamental right

Speaking on behalf of UN chief António Guterres, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed emphasized that universal health coverage will correct a “human rights tragedy on a massive scale”, with billions currently unable to access essential health services.

She called on countries to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services for girls and women, while focusing on the most vulnerable populations, including children, refugees, migrants, and those living through humanitarian crises.

“[Countries] must invest in a well-trained, well-paid health workforce capable of delivering safe, effective quality care to all who need it,” she said.

The deputy UN chief highlighted the need to increase the presence and voices of women – who already make up the majority of health workers – in decisions that concern health.

Extra support

Ms. Mohammed also urged massive scale-up in investments, stressing additional support is crucial for developing countries.

“I call on countries to generously support the SDG Stimulus to increase financing for sustainable development to reach at least $500 billion per year, including investments in health systems,” she said.

She also argued for effective debt-relief mechanisms and multilateral development bank reform.

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