COVID-19 still a global health threat, new variant under scanner: WHO chief

Director-General of WHO urged all the countries to speed up the process of finalising the ‘Pandemic Accord’ so that it can be adopted in the World Health Assembly scheduled to be held in 2024

August 18, 2023 02:47 pm | Updated 03:52 pm IST - Gandhinagar

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization(WHO), attends the Global Conference on Traditional Medicine as part of the G20’s Health Ministers’ meeting in Gandhinagar, on August 17, 2023.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization(WHO), attends the Global Conference on Traditional Medicine as part of the G20’s Health Ministers’ meeting in Gandhinagar, on August 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus on August 18 said though COVID-19 is no longer a health emergency for the world, it is still a ‘global health threat’ and a new variant of coronavirus is already under the scanner.

The chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) was speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the G20 Health Ministers’ Meeting at Mahatma Mandir Convention centre in Gujarat's capital Gandhinagar.

“Although COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency, it remains a global health threat. WHO has recently classified a new variant with a large number of mutations. BA.2.86 variant is under monitoring at present, highlighting once again the need for all countries to maintain surveillance,” he said.

On the occasion, he urged all the countries to speed up the process of finalising the ‘Pandemic Accord’ so that it can be adopted in the World Health Assembly scheduled to be held next year.

“COVID-19 has taught us all an important lesson that when health is at risk everything is at risk. The world is learning the painful lessons of the pandemic,” said Dr Ghebreyesus in his address to the G20 member countries.

Beginning with the presidency of Saudi Arabia, he said, discussions led to the establishment of a joint “Finance Health Task Force” under the interim presidency supported by Indonesia and now India under their respective presidencies.

The WHO head said negotiations on the Pandemic Accord and amendments to the international health regulations are making good progress. He said both are essential for creating the legal and operational framework for inclusive, coherent and equitable global health security architecture.

“I seek your commitment for negotiating a comprehensive Pandemic Accord that encompasses all the essence of pandemic so that we never repeat the same mistakes again. Time is the essence here. The accord is scheduled to be considered by the World Health Assembly next year,” he said.

On the occasion, the WHO chief praised India for introducing telemedicine at primary healthcare level. He also congratulated India for “its commitment to universal health coverage at home especially through Ayushman Bharat, the world’s largest health insurance scheme”.

“I thank India and all the G20 countries for their leadership in developing the global initiative on digital health, which will be launched formally tomorrow. This important initiative will support the WHO global strategy on digital health and amplify other initiatives including the WHO global digital health certification network,” he said.

Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya also spoke at the event.

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