New York City this week hosts the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) General Debate, with heads of state, policymakers, and leaders from business and civil society gathering for decisions and discussions centered on the theme “A watershed moment: transformative solutions to interlocking challenges.”
Among many high-profile side events related to UNGA77, The Task Force’s Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination is hosting a session titled “Solidarity for Global Hepatitis Eliminations: A Call for a U.N. Group of Friends,” featuring UN representatives, Ministers of Health, and leaders from over 20 nations to support efforts to reach World Health Organization (WHO) goals of eliminating hepatitis worldwide by 2030.
In a briefing just prior to the General Debate week, UN Foundation CEO Elizabeth Cousens said the discussions underscore “what matters, what’s at stake and what’s possible.” She noted that world leaders are gathering during a time of “a horrific vortex of crises of food, fuel, finance, climate, and the long tail of Covid that many countries are still dealing with.”
Citizens watching “know that a better world is possible,” Cousens said. “They want that for their families. They see that their established institutions are falling down on the job and they want something better.”
In the same briefing, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake said “We saw very clearly who is being left behind in response to the pandemic,” noting that the recent UNDP 2021/22 Human Development Report showed for the first time that measures of progress are regressing.
UNGA 77’s agenda includes recognizing the need for resilient and people-centered health systems; strengthening efforts to address neglected tropical diseases as part of universal health coverage; reinforcing public health surveillance and data systems; and improving routine immunization and vaccination capacities.
The Task Force joins with partners to advocate for a strong and sustained global political commitment to pandemic preparedness and response, including a high-level treaty or accord to ensure global equity, cooperation and accountability during the current pandemic and future health emergencies. The Task Force also advocates for comprehensive funding for pandemic preparedness and response, with investments in national public health systems, including the recent establishment of a new fund for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response hosted at the World Bank. Drawing upon 40 years of working closely with ministries of health and partners in more than 150 countries, The Task Force believes investment in essential public health function capacity is needed in every country to ensure its citizens have equitable access to disease detection and prevention services, including field epidemiology training programs and immunization campaign development and implementation. Not only must these investments be equitable between countries but within countries, so that the most affected and hardest-to-reach populations are served.
Finally, with growing awareness of the linkages between climate change and zoonosis (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) to public health emergencies, these disciplines should be better integrated into long-term pandemic preparedness and response strategies. Likewise, pandemic-related investments in strengthening health systems will be more cost-effective and sustainable if they are integrated with existing initiatives such as those targeting adult immunization, polio, neglected tropical diseases and other infectious diseases so that funding is not “siloed” and nations can be assured that their health system as a whole is prepared for future challenges.
UNGA77 and related side events provide key opportunities in all of these areas. As UN Foundation CEO Cousens noted last week, more heads of state are expected at UNGA77 than have attended in a long time. She said this is not only due to the ability to travel and gather again following earlier pandemic lockdowns but “because of the gravity of the moment and the recognition not only to do it differently but with greater ambition. This is a consequential moment and citizens are rightly demanding it of their leaders.”
Photo header courtesy of UN Photo/Manuel Elías for UN News.