The 150th session of the World Health Organization's Executive Board kicked off in Geneva and virtually on Monday, 24 January. It is expected that the 75th World Health Assembly taking place in May will formally reelect the eighth Director-General in the international body's history for another five-year term.
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The 150th session of the World Health Organization's Executive Board kicked off in Geneva and virtually on Monday, 24 January. The EB150 session, which will run till 29 January, endorsed the incumbent, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. It is expected that the 75th World Health Assembly taking place in May will formally reelect the eighth Director-General in the international body's history for another five-year term.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which is now in its third year, has been a defining element of Dr. Ghebreyesus's current tenure. The quest to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response will likely underline his second tenure. Thus, not surprisingly, this theme is emerging as a significant highlight of discussions at the EB150. This is on the heels of the 1 December 2021 "historic resolution" for a "pandemic treaty" passed by the Second Special Session of the World Health Assembly on 1 December 2021.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director-General of the WHO
The pandemic has exposed…hunger, inequity, gender discrimination, racism, you name it.
COVID-19 has held a mirror to society. And, as Dr. Tedros said after his endorsement, "the pandemic has exposed…hunger, inequity, gender discrimination, racism, you name it." It is further problematic that governments of more affluent countries and corporations have shied away from putting people unambiguously before profit, even in the face of this global crisis of historic proportions.
As Bangladesh put it, on the opening day of the Executive Board meeting, "commercial interests have been put before public health interests in this pandemic." Nowhere has this been as visible as corporations' use of intellectual property rights (IPR) to profit from the pandemic and its attendant vaccine apartheid.
That is why 84 countries have not been able to meet the 2021 target of vaccinating 40% of their populations while people in richer countries are receiving booster doses. The situation in Africa is particularly dire. Up to 85% of the people in that region have not received even a dose of vaccine.
PSI has consistently called for the suspension of IPR on COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and medicines as a pivotal step towards ensuring equitable access
This situation has to change if the target of vaccinating 70% of the populations of all countries by the end of 2022 is to be met. And this target must be met for the world to move beyond the acute stage of the pandemic. We have to tackle the problem at its roots. Profit-making must be subordinated to the health of people. Equity must become "a reality, not an aspiration" within and between countries.
PSI has consistently called for the suspension of IPR on COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and medicines as a pivotal step towards ensuring equitable access. We have also stressed that well-funded universal public health systems are the needed bulwarks for health emergencies preparedness and response. At the heart of these, as the pandemic shows, must be adequate numbers of health and care workers who are well motivated and organized.
PSI delegates to the WHO EB150 will put forward these arguments. As a non-state action in official relations with the WHO, we will equally take these arguments towards the World Health Assembly in May. The world has lost an important moment over the last two years. But it is not too late. Trade unions, communities, and the broader civil society movement must keep putting pressure on world leaders to win a fundamental shift in running the world.
The public health interests of people must be put over the commercial interests of corporations. International solidarity must triumph over the myopic self-interest of wealthier countries. Only thus will we bring COVID-19 to heel and pull back humanity from the abyss which the world has been thrown into by for-profit interests.