Despite the the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization’s 2020-2021 Results Report tracks WHO’s significant achievements across the global health spectrum. Released ahead of the World Health Assembly next week, the report details such accomplishments as the delivery of more than 1.4 billion vaccine doses via the COVAX facility, the recommendation for broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine and WHO’s response to some 87 health emergencies, including COVID-19.
During 2020-2021, WHO led the largest-ever global response to a health crisis, working with 1600 technical and operational partners, and helped galvanise the biggest, fastest and most complex vaccination drive in history. The Organization spent US$1.7 billion on essential supplies to the COVID-19 response.
“Even as WHO has responded to the most severe global health crisis in a century, we have continued to support our Member States in addressing many other threats to health, despite squeezed budgets and disrupted services,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“As the world continues to respond to and recover from the pandemic in the years ahead, WHO’s priority is to invest even more resources for our work in countries, where it matters most,” he continued. “Ensuring WHO has sustainable, predictable and flexible financing is essential for fulfilling our mission to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.”
The ACT-A partnership delivered over 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by January 2022. The global rollout of crucial health materials included nearly US$500 million worth of personal protective equipment; US$ 187 million in oxygen supplies, US$4.8 million in treatments and 110 million diagnostic tests.
However, much remains to be done for the world to get on track for WHO’s target of each country vaccinating 70% of its population by July 2022.
WHO’s performance beyond pandemic
The Results Report reveals noteworthy achievements beyond the pandemic. Mandatory policies prohibiting the use of trans fatty acids (a hazardous food compound linked to cardiovascular disease), are in effect for 3.2 billion people in 58 countries. Among these countries, 40 have best practice policies, including Brazil, Peru, Singapore, Turkey and the United Kingdom. WHO’s REPLACE initiative aims for a world free of trans-fats by the end of 2023.
Thanks to implementation of measures mandated by WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, tobacco use is decreasing in 150 countries, saving lives and livelihoods.
Due to efforts to scale up life-saving interventions guided by WHO guidelines, 15 countries have achieved elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis.
And WHO’s recommendation of widespread use of the world’s first malaria vaccine (RTS,S) has been delivered to over 1 million children. It is expected to save 40 000 to 80 000 lives a year, when used with other malaria control interventions.
A voice for health equity
The report demonstrates WHO’s crucial role as the world’s global health guardian, speaking up for health equity in a world of widening inequalities.
The grave costs of the pandemic were felt everywhere. The report portrays a world which is clearly further off track to reach crucial global health goals. Due to myriad disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, countries have fallen behind on WHO’s ”Triple Billion targets” that provide critical pathways to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Progress on Universal health coverage and healthier populations are at about one quarter or less the pace needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and no country was fully prepared for a pandemic of such scale.
COVID-19 also caused huge disruptions to health services: 117 of 127 countries surveyed reported disruption to at least one essential health service because of COVID, whilst the average disruption across those countries was a staggering 45%.
Going forward, fulfilling the triple billion targets will be WHO’s overriding goal, as a measurable means of reducing health equity gaps.
Key role of sustainable financing
The Results Report details WHO’s efforts towards transparency and accountability, providing details of expenditure. The WHO Programme Budget for 2020-2021 was $5 840.4 million. In fact, financing reached US $7 916 million, due to COVID-19 emergency operations. The surplus was thanks to the generosity of donors, including 12 Member States which contributed approximately 71% of the total financing.
Nonetheless, the largest share of WHO financing is earmarked by donors through specified voluntary contributions. Flexible funds constituted only 20% of total financing in 2020-2021.
If WHO is to play its full role in achieving the SDGs, delivering on universal health coverage, reducing the burden of ill health and protecting 1 billion more people from health emergencies, the share of regular, stable, predictable financing must increase.