By G9ija

COVID-19 has unfairly impacted some people more harshly than others, exacerbating existing inequities in health and welfare within and between countries.

For World Health Day, 7 April 2021, the World Health Organization is therefore issuing five calls for urgent action to improve health for all people.

Within countries, illness and death from COVID-19 have been higher among groups who face discrimination, poverty, social exclusion, and adverse daily living and working conditions – including humanitarian crises. The pandemic is estimated to have driven between 119 and 124 million more people into extreme poverty last year. And there is convincing evidence that it has widened gender gaps in employment, with women exiting the labour force in greater numbers than men over the past 12 months.

These inequities in people’s living conditions, health services, and access to power, money and resources are long-standing. The result: under-5 mortality rates among children from the poorest households are double that of children from the richest households. Life expectancy for people in low-income countries is 16 years lower than for people in high-income countries. For example, 9 out of 10 deaths globally from cervical cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.

But as countries continue to fight the pandemic, a unique opportunity emerges to build back better for a fairer, healthier world by implementing existing commitments, resolutions, and agreements while also making new and bold commitments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has thrived amid the inequalities in our societies and the gaps in our health systems,” says Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “It is vital for all governments to invest in strengthening their health services and to remove the barriers that prevent so many people from using them, so more people have the chance to live healthy lives.”

WHO is therefore issuing five calls for action:

Accelerate equitable access to COVID-19 technologies between and within countries

Safe and effective vaccines have been developed and approved at record speed. The challenge now is to ensure that they are available to everyone who needs them. Key here will be an additional support to COVAX, the vaccine pillar in the ACT-Accelerator, which hopes to have reached 100 countries and economies in the coming days.

But vaccines alone will not overcome COVID-19. Commodities such as medical oxygen and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as reliable diagnostic tests and medicines are also vital. So are strong mechanisms to fairly distribute all these products within national borders. The ACT-Accelerator aims to establish testing and treatments for hundreds of millions of people in low and middle-income countries who would otherwise miss out. But it still requires USD22.1 billion to deliver these vital tools where they are so desperately needed.