Africa: WHA75 – WHO Recounts Successes in War Against HIV, Malaria, Other Diseases


He noted that 15 countries have been validated for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis, adding that the SDG target on hepatitis B has been met.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recounted its achievements in the war against major diseases, and efforts toward improving life expectancy, especially within the last five years.

At the second plenary session of the ongoing 75th World Health Assembly, the WHO director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, highlighted the progress made during the presentation of what could be described as his scorecard, on Monday.

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.

Mr Ghebreyesus started with the WHO’s target to see one billion people enjoying better health and wellbeing by 2023, saying the progress recorded is only about one-quarter of what is required to reach the relevant targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While highlighting the trends and successes, the global health body’s leader noted that there is a decline in the use of health-harming products such as tobacco. He said the decline has started to show since 2018.

He added that more than two-thirds of member-states have either introduced or increased excise taxes on at least one health-harming product such as tobacco, alcohol, or sugary drinks.

On Communicable diseases

Speaking further, the director-general said the WHO’s guidelines have supported major gains in testing and treatment of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which he noted has resulted in a 32 per cent decline since 2016.

He noted that 15 countries have been validated for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis, adding that the SDG target on hepatitis B has also been met.

He said: “And since 2015, the number of people who have received treatment for hepatitis C has increased ninefold to 9.4 million, reversing the trend of increasing mortality for the first time.

“On tuberculosis, 73 countries have reached the target for a 35 per cent reduction in TB deaths since 2015, and 86 have achieved a 20 per cent reduction in incidence.

“Since 2012, nine more countries have been certified as malaria-free and cases in the Greater Mekong have dropped by almost 90 per cent. And for the first time, we have a malaria vaccine and more than 1 million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have now received at least one dose.”

The Greater Mekong referred to by Mr Ghebreyesus is a trans-national region of the Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia, with an approximately 300 million population.

He added that in the past five years, 14 additional countries and territories eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease.

“Cases of African trypanosomiasis have declined by 90 per cent in 10 years, and only 15 cases of guinea worm disease were reported last year, compared with 3.5 million in the mid-1980s,” the director general added.

Eradication of Polio

On polio, Mr Ghebreyesus said the dream of a polio-free world is “tantalisingly close with four cases of wild poliovirus reported so far this year in Afghanistan and Pakistan”

He said: “WHO and our partners in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have provided 1.4 billion doses of polio vaccines to member states at no cost.

“Our investments in polio will not end when polio and the infrastructure and expertise we have built are already being used to deliver other vaccines and health services, including for COVID-19.

“And we have made significant progress in our response to antimicrobial resistance.”

Strengthening health systems

Speaking on the efforts towards strengthening global health systems, Mr Ghebreyesus said WHO saw two major commitments with the Astana Declaration on primary health care in 2018 and the political declaration on universal health coverage at the UN General Assembly in 2019.

He also noted that WHO special programme on primary health care is now supporting 115 countries compared with 35, some years ago.

He said: “Since 2015, 95 per cent of these countries have made progress toward this increased service coverage. We have also seen encouraging trends in our work to strengthen the global health workforce.

“Between 2017 and 2020, the number of health workers globally has increased by 29 per cent. Previously, we projected a global shortage of 18 million health workers by 2030. That project shortage has now shrunk to 15 million, but it’s still a massive shortage.

“In the past five years, we have also made significant progress in expanding access to medicines and other essential health products. We have pre-qualified 53 vaccines, 50 In vitro diagnostics, and 288 medicines, including important new therapies for HIV, hepatitis, TB, malaria NTDs and COVID 19.”

Non-communicable diseases

Speaking on non-communicable diseases, Mr Ghebreyesus said WHO has supported countries to detect and treat NCDs in primary health care programmes, while only 25 countries have been supported with rehabilitation services.

He said: “More than 3 million people in 18 countries have gained access to treatment for hypertension, with increasing use of WHO hearts package of interventions.