GENEVA – Health is not created primarily in hospitals or clinics but in homes, streets, markets, workplaces, and the environment, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

“It’s said that health is made at home, and hospitals are for repair,” Tedros said in his opening remarks during the Summit of the H20, an independent annual platform supporting the G20 presidency on an initiative called Future of Global Health Diplomacy in a Changing World.

“It’s created in the air people breathe, the food they eat, and the conditions in which they live and work,” he said, quoting Dutch philosopher Erasmus, who said prevention is better than cure.

Tedros said that 500 years later, the world is still learning from Erasmus.

For that reason, keeping people healthy and preventing disease is one of the three key priorities in WHO’s global strategy for the next four years, he said.

“Of course, when people do need care, they must be able to access the health services they need without facing financial hardship,” he acknowledged.

Tedros said another WHO priority is providing health by supporting countries in reorienting their health systems towards primary health care, which is the foundation of universal health coverage.

Half of world lacks access to health services

Half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services, and 2 billion people face financial hardship due to out-of-pocket health spending, Tedros said.

Such gaps expose people to avoidable suffering and death, “but they also expose individuals, families, communities, nations, and the entire world to the impact of epidemics and pandemics.”

For that reason, another WHO priority, is to make the world safer, by strengthening global health security, the WHO chief said, adding, “The new Pandemic Agreement, which member states have been negotiating, is an instrument of international law to keep the world safer.”

“In addition, the package of amendments on the International Health Regulations that (WHO) member states adopted is a historic achievement and a strong signal that multilateralism is alive and well.”

Tedros noted that at the same time, the world faces an increasing number of humanitarian crises, including in Ukraine, Sudan, and occupied Palestinian territory, especially Gaza.

“WHO is operating in an increasingly complex environment, in the face of challenges, including climate change, aging, migration, advancing science and technology, and a fragmented geopolitical environment,” Tedros said, stressing that “multilateralism is critical” in the face of such challenges.

The world needs high-level engagement and a commitment to prioritize health at the highest political level, including the G7 and G20, he said.

“In their declaration this year, the G7 leaders once again expressed their strong support for global health and recognized the role of WHO,” Tedros said, urging investments in WHO as investments in healthier populations, along with more equitable, stable, and secure societies and economies.

He said 2024 and 2025 would be years full of possibilities for global health.

“This includes high level meetings on antimicrobial resistance and NCDs (non-communicable diseases); and COP29 on the climate crisis, which includes a focus on health; and the finalization of the negotiations on the pandemic agreement.” (via PNA)