WHO DG assures equitable distribution of vaccines once it’s ready

Younten Tshedup

Concerned by the impact of the Covid-19 on all aspects of lives and recognising the importance of regional solidarity, Bhutan along with 10 other member countries of the WHO South-East Asia Region resolved to collectively fight the pandemic.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo signed the declaration at the end of the ministerial round table session yesterday. The signing also marked the closing of the 73rd regional committee session for the South-East Asia Region.

The annual event hosted by Thailand was held virtually for the first time due to the pandemic.

Besides collectively fighting the pandemic, the Declaration was signed also to strengthen the region’s response with better-equipped health systems to deliver essential health services during the pandemic.

The Declaration called for efforts to sustain essential health services and public health programmes during public health emergencies and use the current pandemic as an opportunity to build back their health systems to be better.

WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the spread of Covid-19 has impacted almost every community, overwhelmed health systems and disrupted economies and livelihoods with effects reaching far beyond the health sector.

During his inaugural address to the session on September 9, Dr Tedros said that Covid-19 has caused so much pain, sorrow and uncertainties. “But it’s also giving us an opportunity. The whole world can now see that health is an essential investment in safer, healthier, fairer and more sustainable societies.”

WHO Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said that people’s health needs do not disappear during such extraordinary events. “Health security is not only about building capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to acute events. It must also be about building capacity to maintain essential health services for the duration of response and into the recovery.”

Member countries agreed to allocate adequate budget to ensure uninterrupted services during and beyond the pandemic.

Countries also resolved to strengthen the health information systems by leveraging digital technologies, which capture timely reporting of outbreaks and sharing information for policy decisions.

With health workers playing a crucial role during the pandemic, member countries pledged to ensure occupational health, safety and wellbeing of health professionals and other related workers.

Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, “Continued efforts should be made to keep health workers safe from infection and violence and to provide mental health and psychosocial support.”

The Bhutanese delegation shared the country’s challenges in combating the pandemic and recommended for the institution of a regional warehouse to facilitate and stockpile essential medical supplies required for response to health emergencies.

Member countries agreed to continuing and expanding the multi-sectoral collaboration – strengthening regional collaboration for scaling up capacities for preparedness, surveillance and rapid response, field epidemiology training, supply chain management of medicines and medical supplies, and regional stockpiling of essential health resources, among others.

Meanwhile, all countries in the region agreed to fully engage in global discussion on equitable allocation of vaccines, medicines and diagnostics for Covid-19.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that in the coming months the WHO was expecting good news with regard to a possible vaccine.

He said that WHO would ensure that vaccines reach in small amounts, to begin with, to every country. “It should not be everyone getting the vaccines in some countries.”