Health is a fundamental human right. However, today inequalities still prevent half of the world’s population from the essential services they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic further disrupted essential services in 92% of countries.
World Health Organization (WHO) selected the theme “Health for All” to be its slogan for the World Health Day in 2023 that marks its 75th anniversary, reaffirming the legally binding concept that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental human right for everyone everywhere, and not a luxury for only those who can afford it.
Putting “Health For All” into practice means that inequalities must be eliminated, resources must be distributed differently to ensure that no-one is left behind, and political and economic interests must be geared towards achieving the goal of access to the full range of quality health services for all people, without facing financial hardship.
This brings to the attention that our world is an unequal one. We can see that many people around the world are unable to live healthier lives due to the conditions in which they are born, grow, live, work and age. The triple planetary crisis – Climate Change, Air Pollution, and Biodiversity Loss as well as the latest COVID-19 pandemic has deepened and exposed such inequalities, pushing more people into poverty and food insecurity, and amplified gender, social and health inequities. The pandemic has served as a powerful reminder that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and that solidarity between countries, and collaboration between different sectors, are essential in tackling public health crises.
This World Health Day is an opportunity to look back on key public health successes that have saved lives in the last seven decades, in the world and in Egypt. It is also an opportunity to motivate action to tackle the health challenges of today ̶ and tomorrow through Science, Solutions, and Solidarity.
Collaboration is at the heart of what we do as UN agencies. We advocate for a multisectoral whole-of-government approach to tackling inequities. Collaboration for health has had a long history in Egypt, politically endorsed by the Government of Egypt, facilitated by the RC, and led by WHO, as the UN agency mandated to connect partners and lead global efforts to give everyone an equal chance at a healthy life. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, and social determinants of health — and to invest in heath in its holistic definition as a complete state of well-being and not the mere absence of diseases.
Most evidently, in the wake of COVID-19, the UN organizations in Egypt came together, with the lead of WHO along with Egypt Prime Minister office and the Ministry of Health and Population to develop and support Egypt’s “Country Preparedness and Response Plan” to save lives, ensure equitable access to vaccines, and maintain the essential health services continuity during the pandemic.
Vaccines have changed the course of the pandemic, and saved countless lives, and collaboration is one essential way this was made possible. WHO and UNICEF have worked hand in hand to secure vaccines deliveries to Egypt. Historically, the long-standing partnership between the two organizations significantly contributed to huge milestones including the eradication of polio since 2006 in Egypt and the elimination of rubella and measles in 2022. To advance the SDGs, children’s healthcare needs to be viewed holistically to include access to essential services, including clean water, affordable and nutritious food, sanitation and hygiene. There are opportunities to innovate and use evidence-based decision making to build robust health systems that serve the most vulnerable. With the current economic outlook and the likely impact on poverty and food-security, it is important that the government continue to invest in maintaining these rights to health and nutrition.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance of information and knowledge can play to save lives. Together with different agencies from the UN, government and the private sector, UNESCO facilitated knowledge and generating solutions to tackling COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation and contain the virus and worked with WHO closely to fight infodemic. In collaboration with partners, UNESCO’s sectors in social and human sciences, education, and communication and information have also supported young researchers in investigating the socio-economic impacts of climate change as a determinant of health, piloted global standards for health-promoting schools, and mobilised talent and technology to reduce premature deaths caused by non-communicable diseases.
Another main area for collaboration is One Health that addresses public health issues in an interlinked approach in the human, animal, plants and environment health domains. Addressing health risks in the human/animal-ecosystems interface is built on a strong partnership between WHO and FAO and other players such as UNEP who have different roles and perspectives on issues and may have different levels of resources, in critical areas, that include but are not limited to zoonotic diseases, climate change and antimicrobial resistance. We acknowledge the political commitment and engagement of the ministries of Health, Agriculture and Land Reclamation, Environment and others in developing the joint strategies, risk assessments and outbreak investigations which merge animal and human health dynamics into a comprehensive approach.
The National Project for Development of the Egyptian Family, launched in 2022, comes to reinforce and complement the work done by UNFPA to achieve SDG Goals 3 and 5 in collaboration with WHO and others. The project offers a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach towards addressing developmental challenges, while putting reproductive health at the very heart of its agenda. To achieve “health for all,” we must accelerate efforts towards gender equality, and ensure the prioritization of services essential to women and girls. According to UNFPA's calculations, such investments generate economic gains too: investing a single dollar in ending preventable maternal deaths and the unmet need for family planning by 2030 can yield economic benefits of up to $8.40 by 2050.
The advancement of health sector is reflected in the expansion of the HIV/AIDS services offering comprehensive prevention packages, expanding of services for women and young girls and reaching the most marginalized groups and at risk. The expansion of services including sexual and reproductive health services, HIV prevention and treatment services. This is in addition to focusing on the fast track to achieve the 95-95-95 targets by 2025. UNAIDS in it’s coordinating role with WHO and UN Agencies has actively assisted in empowering different communities to fight stigma and end inequalities aiming to accelerate the HIV response and achieve the SDGs, adopting the people centered approach which support to end inequalities and allowing universal access to all people. Through UNDP support, the National AIDS Program successfully rolled out a national harm reduction program targeting persons injecting drugs to address their vulnerability to HIV in collaboration with WHO and relevant Civil Society . Both UNDP and WHO also have supported the National TB Program expanded outreach to high-risk populations and improved case detection and treatment enrollment.
The UN looks to leave no one behind, and thus, has the rights of refugees and migrants as a core in its mandate, particularly factoring in that they are some of the most vulnerable communities in any country. Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants today are granted access to essential health services at par with Egyptian citizens which is an expression of true solidarity, and a witness on the relentless work of UNHCR, IOM in collaboration with WHO and the UN agencies and the Egyptian government and health partners.
As we mark the 75th anniversary for when the world countries came together to establish WHO, we look back with pride, and we look forward with hope, and confidence that tackling the challenges of today and tomorrow can only be realized through science, solutions, and solidarity to ensure health security of all and raise the flag of rights and equity for a healthier plant and people.