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A year of anniversaries – let’s make 2018 the year of #HealthForAll

This year is one of anniversaries and milestones in global health – 2018 marks seventy years since the establishment of both the World Health Organization and the UK’s National Health Service, as well as forty years since the Alma Ata Declaration, which established primary health care as the key to attaining ‘Health for All.’

As he celebrates one year in the post of Director-General of the WHO this week, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus can already feel that he has taken the baton of Health for All significantly further down the track. His careful focus on Universal Health Coverage has altered the debate on global health and has been met with tangible progress – exemplified this by Nigeria’s Senate committing 1% of its Consolidated Revenue Fund to health, a landmark budgetary move with the express purpose of achieving UHC.

The strong leadership at the top of the WHO was further demonstrated in the response to the recent Ebola outbreak in the DRC. Arriving swiftly on the scene to coordinate efforts, Dr.  Tedros and his team gave the international community – and, most importantly, the local population – timely updates on the progress of the battle against Ebola and reassurance that it would be brought under control.

That leadership has been matched by the WHO’s detailed plans to transform health – both at the global and regional level. At the World Health Assembly this year, operating in my role as Special Advisor to the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) to the World Health Organization regional office for Africa (WHO AFRO), I welcomed the launch of the business case for WHO Immunization Activities in Africa. From that meeting, the WHO also demonstrated its current flexibility and responsiveness by agreeing to my call for Nigeria to be given a special category as a global health security issue in terms of infectious diseases.

There has also been an unmistakable sense of energy around the WHO. In May I launched the ‘Walk the Talk’ initiative in Nigeria with Dr Wondi Alemu, WHO Representative and Head of Mission in Nigeria, in partnership with the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development. Together we led over 2,000 people on a 7.2 kilometre walk in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, to promote healthy lifestyle practices to combat non-communicable diseases. That launch – mirrored in Geneva by the WHO leadership – has precipitated an outpouring of goodwill and impact.

The launch this week of the new joint report by the OECD, the WHO and the World Bank – ‘Delivering Quality Health Services – a Global Imperative for Universal Health Coverage’ – addresses the key issues we must address to achieve UHC. The report is, of course, worth reading in full, but its acknowledgment of the importance of transforming water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) conditions in healthcare facilities is truly essential, as it recognises that in low and middle-income countries, 10 percent of hospitalized patients can expect to acquire an infection during their stay. When I met with Dr. Tedros at the World Health Assembly, I appreciated his support of the Wellbeing Foundation’s new global campaign for improved WASH and I am delighted to see that this agenda is being further pursued. Both in treatment and in prevention of the spread of epidemics, healthcare workers and the facilities they work in are at the frontline. Those facilities must be oases of wellbeing, not centres of infection. In my role as Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives, I advocate not only for improved WASH conditions to keep both patients and healthcare workers, who are at great risk, safe and healthy.

As I prepare for the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, in Senegal this August, I continue to support Dr Matsidisho Moeti’s Transformation Agenda. Dr. Moeti, the Director for the WHO Africa Regional Office, has pushed the WHO in Africa to be more accountable and effective. As the WHO reaches its 70th year, it is that accountability and leadership which will make 2018 the year of Health for All.

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