Task Force Joins 74th World Health Assembly

The Task Force is attending the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 74th World Health Assembly, May 24 to June 1. As an official WHO non-State actor, The Task Force has submitted written statements on relevant agenda items, including health emergencies, global immunizations, mental health and polio. Some Task Force representatives may also be speaking at the meeting. Recorded versions of those verbal statements will be published here when available.

Watch the live WHA webcast here.

Statements related to specific sessions:

Monday, May 24 – Expanding access to effective treatments for cancer and rare and orphan diseases, including medicines, vaccines, medical devices, diagnostics, assistive products, cell- and gene-based therapies and other health technologies; and improving the transparency of markets for medicines, vaccines, and other health products.

By Patrick Lammie, Director of the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center

Improving access to quality-assured diagnostic tools is critical to the successful elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and to reaching WHO’s ambitious 2030 roadmap targets for 20 NTDs. The Task Force for Global Health, founded in

1984 to advance health equity, works with partners in more than 150 countries to eliminate diseases, ensure access to vaccines and essential medicines, and strengthen health systems to protect populations.

At The Task Force, several of the programs, including the Mectizan® Donation Program, the International Trachoma Initiative, Children without Worms, Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy and the NTD Support Center, are committed to working with WHO and country programs to enable successful control and elimination of NTDs. In the context of WHO’s focus on expanding access to diagnostics for rare and orphan diseases, it is important to recognize: 1) a number of WHO’s targeted NTDs can certainly be classified as rare; and 2) even more prevalent NTDs such as lymphatic filariasis are becoming rare due to successful intervention programmes.

The concentration of NTDs in disadvantaged populations who are unable to pay for testing or treatment, coupled with the small size of the market for these diagnostic tests, disincentivizes commercial producers. As a result, nearly all NTDs lack the accurate and affordable diagnostic tests required to make effective treatment decisions and to support surveillance. Coordinated action is needed to address these challenges, both by creating financial incentives for the development of new tests and by reducing regulatory barriers that increase the cost and time required for new tests to be introduced into programme use. WHO leadership is essential to build solutions for these problems. We pledge our support to WHO in these efforts.

Tuesday, May 25 – Public health emergencies: preparedness and response

This is a joint constituency statement by multiple non-State actors led by the Global Health Council.

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, over one billion vaccine doses have been delivered globally. Yet access to vaccines and other lifesaving tools has not been equitable.

The pandemic has spotlighted health inequities, which allow the virus to continue to spread, mutate, and overwhelm health systems—leaving marginalized populations further behind. These inequities were not borne of COVID-19 and inadequate investment and policy responses risk further widening the gap.

We applaud WHO efforts to address inequities through strengthened international cooperation and support negotiations to improve international pandemic preparedness. Collective action is critical to end this pandemic, achieve equitable recovery, and create stronger, resilient systems and WHO must be in the lead. We support calls to maximize dose sharing through COVAX, fully fund the ACT-Accelerator, and commit political leadership to oversee response and recovery. 

We welcome the Director-General’s update on implementation of resolution WHA73.1—which acknowledges COVID-19 disruptions to essential health services—and urge Member States to increase investment in health systems to ensure continuity of services in pursuit of health for all.

We need a holistic approach to health system strengthening. To prepare for future health emergencies, WHO and Member States must urgently improve global coordination, increase sustainable financing for preparedness, and invest in better and more effective surveillance systems and field epidemiology training. National and global responses to future health emergencies, must include:

  • Investment in national leadership positions and action plans to increase global health security to fully reach IHR compliance;
  • Prioritization of regional research and manufacturing capacity;
  • Strengthened medical and pharmaceutical supply chains in advance of health emergencies; and
  • Incorporation of pathogen spillover prevention and zoonotic risk assessment.

Member States, WHO, and other stakeholders must promote an all-of-society approach to health system strengthening and pandemic preparedness that includes civil society engagement and addresses inequities at their roots. WHO must be well-resourced to prioritize a comprehensive preparedness agenda that ensures systems and services reach the last mile so that everyone is protected from future health emergencies.

Tuesday, May 25 – Mental health preparedness for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic

By David Addiss, Director of the Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health was a leading cause of chronic disability and human suffering worldwide, yet in February 2021, only 3% of government health expenditures went to mental health. The extent of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on mental health is not yet fully understood, yet it is clear that the pandemic fueled a global mental health crisis, having interrupted mental health services in 93% of countries and traumatized many health care providers.  

In working with partners to provide support and resilience training to global health officials and clinicians, the Focus Area for Compassion and Ethics (FACE) at The Task Force for Global Health has witnessed the devastating mental health consequences throughout the health system. The human consequences of the mental health crisis resulting from COVID-19 cannot be overestimated.

We support the Board’s decision to adopt EB148(3) on promoting mental health preparedness and response for public health emergencies.  In light of COVID-19, we urgently call on the WHA to adopt the decision referenced in EB148(5), updating the mental health action plan 2013-2030 by promoting mental health and psychosocial well-being; building mental health services and psychosocial supports; and strengthening preparedness, response capacity and resilience for future public health emergencies. 

Wednesday, May 26 – Immunization Agenda 2030

By Alan Hinman, Vaccine Sector Advisor

We are committed to working closely with WHO and other global immunization partners in implementing IA2030, including strengthening the capacity and performance of immunization programs at global, regional, and country levels. 

The Task Force, in partnership with the U.S. CDC, is pleased to contribute to several of the most important priorities of IA2030:  vaccine equity (leaving no one behind); vaccination across the life course (influenza, COVID-19); disease control, elimination, and eradication (polio, measles/rubella, hepatitis B and C, influenza, COVID-19); responding to outbreaks and emergencies (polio, COVID-19); and strengthening health systems (integrating campaigns with each other and into ongoing health services).  As part of this partnership, The Task Force will be working with 30+ countries to strengthen their immediate and long-term capacity for immunization efforts, including for influenza and COVID-19.

A major contributor to global efforts is CDC’s new Global Immunization Strategic Framework (2021-2030), which is aligned with IA2030. The framework focuses CDC’s immunization program strengthening work over the next decade to help regions and countries achieve the goals and objectives of IA2030, Gavi 5.0, and the Global Health Security Agenda.

The Task Force is establishing a US-based coalition of immunization partners to support implementation of IA2030 and CDC’s Global Immunization Strategic Framework, with particular emphasis on the vital role that strong immunization systems play in achieving/assuring global health security.

The Task Force appreciates the additional details that have been added to IA2030  and looks forward to continuing to work closely with WHO, other global partners, and countries in achieving the important goals of IA2030.

Wednesday, May 26 – The global health sector strategies on, respectively, HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, for the period 2016–2021

By John Ward, Director of the Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination

The Coalition for Global Hepatitis Elimination, of The Task Force for Global Health, supports WHO’s development of a new Global Health Sector Strategy for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections for 2022–2030.

Guided by the original strategy, Member States took action: decreasing hepatitis B (HBV) prevalence to <1% among young children and increasing access to hepatitis C (HCV) curative therapy. Of concern for many countries, substantial gaps remain along the continuum of prevention and care: only 43% of newborns globally and <10% in the African region receive HBV vaccination; 90% of persons with HBV and almost 80% of those with HCV remain unaware of their status; and HBV and HCV cause 1.1 million deaths annually. As the technical organization solely devoted to hepatitis elimination, the Coalition commits to assisting WHO develop a strategy to address these challenges and meet patient needs. Priorities for this next strategy include improving strategic information, advancing elimination of HBV mother-to-child transmission, scaling-up HBV/HCV testing, and strengthening linkages to appropriate treatment.

Leveraging the unprecedented COVID-19 response together with coordinated planning across HIV, hepatitis, and STIs, will build capacity for hepatitis elimination pursued in the context of universal health coverage. The strategy must enable Member States to tailor action plans suited to their specific contexts and target populations. To strengthen the evidence base for high burden countries, the Coalition, in partnership with Ministries of Health and other stakeholders profiles specific policies and programs necessary to scale up prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, calling attention to national achievements and actions needed for progress. The Coalition will continue to convene partners around WHO priorities, coordinate international- and country-level activities, and assist Member States set and achieve their hepatitis elimination goals. Guided by a global strategy endorsed by this body, working together we will achieve hepatitis elimination.

Saturday, May 29 – Polio

By Fabien Diomande, Director of the Polio Surge Capacity Support Team   

We applaud the WHO Secretariat and Member States for their leadership, persistence and vigilance in our shared goal of polio elimination. The Task Force’s Polio Surge Center is proud to play a

supportive role in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), in partnership with the U.S. CDC, which has been engaged in the fight against polio for over 31 years.

We support the Global Polio Eradication Strategy’s evolving and innovative approaches, through the provision of targeted surge capacity expertise and technical assistance to outbreak countries, and those at high risk of future outbreak.  This approach, applying targeted technical assistance based on countries’ needs to improve active case search, enhance surveillance efforts, and support preparation and implementation of vaccination campaigns (including the roll-out of the novel OPV2), is cost-effective and strengthens and sustains the expertise of national public health institutes and ministries of health. We also support the Strategy’s commitment to ensure that this disease-specific work builds overall national public health capacity for the long term. To do so, we work in partnership with Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) residents as sources of valuable local human resource capacity. The institutionalization of this expertise is crucial in controlling outbreaks and ultimately eradicating polio, and we urge WHO and Member States to consider this approach.

We are concerned about cuts to polio eradication implementing partners’ staff and contractors (WHO, UNICEF) all over the regions affected by polio outbreaks. These funding cuts, coupled with the extraordinary burdens of COVID-19, could have negative impacts on the successful implementation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.  The polio staff at Ministries of Health, WHO, CDC and partners are an inspiration to all of us. They need our full support. Maintaining sufficient levels of program resources to address growing demands from countries for polio outbreak preparedness and response is critical to reaching our common goal of polio eradication.

Header photo: The WHO Director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, makes opening remarks in the Executive Board Room at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva. Photo courtesy of the WHO.

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