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WHO chief says many reasons for hope in 2023

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus looks on during a press conference at the World Health Organization's headquarters in Geneva, on Dec 14, 2022. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

GENEVA – Although 2022 has been a highly challenging year for global health, there are still many reasons for hope as the new year approaches, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

During 2022, the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were also global outbreaks of mpox, cholera outbreaks in many countries, and an Ebola outbreak in Uganda. Drought and flooding hit the greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel, and there was flooding in Pakistan.

The WHO chief identified five priorities for the world health authority in 2023: focusing on health promotion and disease prevention by shifting from sick care to healthcare; promoting universal health coverage, particularly primary healthcare; strengthening emergency preparedness and response; pushing forward research, science and technology; and continuing to reform the WHO

However, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Wednesday that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning, as is the global mpox outbreak, and there have been no new cases of Ebola in Uganda for more than three weeks.

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"We are hopeful that each of these emergencies will be declared over at different points next year," he said.

The number of weekly reported COVID-19 deaths worldwide has dropped by almost 90 percent since the peak at the end of January, he added, when the Omicron wave was in full swing.

However, he also warned that the pandemic is not over. Gaps in surveillance, testing and sequencing still make it difficult to understand exactly how the virus is changing; and gaps in vaccination have left millions of people, especially health workers and the elderly, at high risk of severe disease and death.

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The WHO chief identified five priorities for the world health authority in 2023: focusing on health promotion and disease prevention by shifting from sick care to healthcare; promoting universal health coverage, particularly primary healthcare; strengthening emergency preparedness and response; pushing forward research, science and technology; and continuing to reform the WHO.

He also said that political commitment from national leaderships is crucial, since all five priorities should be implemented at national level.