Last year was full of “big events” for public health, including the launch of a new meningitis vaccine and an aggressive new strategy for polio eradication, the head of the United Nations health agency said today, while stressing the need to ensure that progress is maintained in the year ahead.
Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), noted in her address to the agency’s Executive Board in Geneva that a major issue is how much the financial crisis and economic downturn will affect public health, both internationally and within individual countries.
“Will progress stall? Will powerful innovations, like the meningitis vaccine, like the vaccines for preventing diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia, like the new diagnostic test for tuberculosis, fall short of reaching their potential?”
“Public health has been on a winning streak. But will we still have the resources to maintain, if not accelerate, these gains?”
The new meningitis vaccine, for example, has the potential to end devastating epidemics in Africa’s meningitis belt. “But there are 25 countries in this belt, and funding shortfalls jeopardize much-needed campaigns elsewhere.”
The Director-General noted that many organizations in global health, like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI Alliance), and WHO itself, now face serious funding shortfalls.
In her wide-ranging speech, Ms. Chan also noted that experience showed that health initiatives survive long enough to deliver sustainable results only when they are nationally owned and aligned with national priorities and capacities.
“Self-reliance is realized only when programmes are delivered in ways that strengthen existing systems, infrastructures and capacities. Doing so helps countries reduce their dependence on aid and gives donors an exit strategy.”