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News (English) - World Health Organization Corporate news releases, statements, and notes for media issued by the World Health Organization.

  • SAGE October 2021 meeting highlights
    on October 15, 2021 at 10:14 am

    The highlights of the SAGE plenary 4-8 October 2021 meeting have been published.The full report will be published in the Weekly Epidemiological Record on 17.12.2021, and only the wording of the full report should be considered as final.  

  • Tuberculosis deaths rise for the first time in more than a decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic
    on October 14, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed years of global progress in tackling tuberculosis and for the first time in over a decade, TB deaths have increased, according to the World Health Organization’s 2021 Global TB report.In 2020, more people died from TB, with far fewer people being diagnosed and treated or provided with TB preventive treatment compared with 2019, and overall spending on essential TB services falling.The first challenge is disruption in access to TB services and a reduction in resources. In many countries, human, financial and other resources have been reallocated from tackling TB to the COVID-19 response, limiting the availability of essential services.The second is that people have struggled to seek care in the context of lockdowns.“This report confirms our fears that the disruption of essential health services due to the pandemic could start to unravel years of progress against tuberculosis,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “This is alarming news that must serve as a global wake-up call to the urgent need for investments and innovation to close the gaps in diagnosis, treatment and care for the millions of people affected by this ancient but preventable and treatable disease.”TB services are among many others disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but the impact on TB has been particularly severe.For example, approximately, 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020 (including 214 000 among HIV positive people).The increase in the number of TB deaths occurred mainly in the 30 countries with the highest burden of TB[1]. WHO modelling projections suggest the number of people developing TB and dying from the disease could be much higher in 2021 and 2022.Challenges with providing and accessing essential TB services have meant that many people with TB were not diagnosed in 2020. The number of people newly diagnosed with TB and those reported to national governments fell from 7.1 million in 2019 to 5.8 million in 2020.WHO estimates that some 4.1 million people currently suffer from TB but have not been diagnosed with the disease or have not officially reported to national authorities. This figure is up from 2.9 million in 2019.The countries that contributed most to the global reduction in TB notifications between 2019 and 2020 were India (41%), Indonesia (14%), the Philippines (12%) and China (8%). These and 12 other countries accounted for 93% of the total global drop in notifications.There was also a reduction in provision of TB preventive treatment. Some 2.8 million people accessed this in 2020, a 21% reduction since 2019.  In addition, the number of people treated for drug-resistant TB fell by 15%, from 177 000 in 2019 to 150 000 in 2020, equivalent to only about 1 in 3 of those in need.Global investment for TB fallsFunding in the low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that account for 98% of reported TB cases remains a challenge. Of the total funding available in 2020, 81% came from domestic sources, with the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa) accounting for 65% of total domestic funding.The largest bilateral donor is the Government of the United States of America. The biggest international donor is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.The report notes a fall in global spending on TB diagnostic, treatment and prevention services, from US$ 5.8 billion to US$ 5.3 billion, which is less than half of the global target for fully funding the TB response of US$ 13 billion annually by 2022.  Meanwhile, although there is progress in the development of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines, this is constrained by the overall level of R&D investment, which at US$ 0.9 billion in 2019 falls far short of the global target of US$ 2 billion per year.Global TB targets off trackReversals in progress mean that the global TB targets are off track and appear increasingly out of reach, however there are some successes.  Globally, the reduction in the number of TB deaths between 2015 and 2020 was only 9.2% - about one quarter of the way to the 2020 milestone of 35%.Globally, the number of people falling ill with TB each year (relative to population) dropped 11% from 2015 to 2020, just over half-way to the 2020 milestone of 20%.However, the WHO European Region exceeded the 2020 milestone, with a reduction of 25%. This was mostly driven by the decline in the Russian Federation, where incidence fell by 6% per year between 2010 to 2020. The WHO African Region came close to reaching the milestone, with a reduction of 19%, which reflects impressive reductions of 4–10% per year in South Africa and  several other countries in southern Africa, following a peak in the HIV epidemic and the expansion of TB and HIV prevention and care.  “We have just one year left to reach the historic 2022 TB targets committed by Heads of State at the first UN High Level Meeting on TB. The report provides important information and a strong reminder to countries to urgently fast-track their TB responses and save lives,” said Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme. “This will be crucial as preparations begin for the 2nd UN High Level Meeting on TB mandated for 2023.”The report calls on countries to put in place urgent measures to restore access to essential TB services. It further calls for a doubling of investments in TB research and innovation as well as concerted action across the health sector and others to address the social, environmental and economic determinants of TB and its consequences.The new report features data on disease trends and the response to the epidemic from 197 countries and areas, including 182 of the 194 World Health Organization (WHO) Member States. Note to the editorSince the declaration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s Global TB Programme has monitored the impact of the pandemic on TB services and provided guidance and support.Global targetsIn 2014 and 2015, all Member States of WHO and the UN adopted the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and WHO’s End TB Strategy. The SDGs and End TB Strategy both include targets and milestones for large reductions in TB incidence, TB deaths and costs faced by TB patients and their households.The WHO End TB Strategy aims for a 90 per cent reduction in TB deaths and an 80 per cent reduction in the TB incidence rate by 2030, compared to the 2015 baseline. Milestones for 2020 include a 20% reduction in the TB incidence rate and a 35% reduction in TB deaths.The UN Political Declaration on TB also included 4 new targets for the period 2018-2022:Treat 40 million people for TB diseaseReach at least 30 million people with TB preventive treatment for a latent TB infectionMobilize at least US$13 billion annually for universal access to TB diagnosis, treatment and careMobilize at least US$2 billion annually for TB researchTB factsTuberculosis (TB), the second (after COVID- 19) deadliest infectious killer, is caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) that most often affect the lungs. It can spread when people who are sick with TB expel bacteria into the air – for example, by coughing.Approximately 90 percent of those who fall sick with TB each year live in 30 countries. Most people who develop the disease are adults –in 2020 - men accounted for 56% of all TB cases, adult women accounted for 33% and children for 11%. Many new cases of TB are attributable to five risk factors: undernutrition, HIV infection, alcohol use disorders, smoking and diabetes.TB is preventable and curable. About 85% of people who develop TB disease can be successfully treated with a 6-month drug regimen; treatment has the added benefit of curtailing onward transmission of infection.[1] 30 countries with the highest burden of TB include: Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, Central African Republic, China, Congo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Viet Nam and Zambia. 

  • WHO Director-General Bestows Posthumous Award on the Late Henrietta Lacks
    on October 13, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus honoured the late Henrietta Lacks with a WHO Director-General’s award, recognizing the world-changing legacy of this Black American woman who died of cervical cancer, 70 years ago, on 4 October, 1951. While she sought treatment, researchers took biopsies from Mrs Lacks’ body without her knowledge or consent.  Her cells became the first “immortal” cell line, and have allowed for incalculable scientific breakthroughs such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, the polio vaccine, drugs for HIV and cancers, and most recently, critical COVID-19 research.  Shockingly, the global scientific community once hid Henrietta Lacks’ race and her real story, a historic wrong that today’s recognition seeks to heal.“In honouring Henrietta Lacks, WHO acknowledges the importance of reckoning with past scientific injustices, and advancing racial equity in health and science,” said Dr Tedros. “It’s also an opportunity to recognize women - particularly women of colour - who have made incredible but often unseen contributions to medical science.”The award was received at the WHO office in Geneva by Lawrence Lacks, Mrs. Lacks’ 87-year-old son.  He is one of the last living relatives who personally knew her.  Mr. Lacks was accompanied by several of Henrietta Lacks’ grandchildren, great-grand children, and other family members.“We are moved to receive this historic recognition of my mother, Henrietta Lacks – honouring who she was as a remarkable woman and the lasting impact of her HeLa cells. My mother’s contributions, once hidden, are now being rightfully honored for their global impact,” said Lawrence Lacks, Sr., Henrietta Lacks’ eldest son. “My mother was a pioneer in life, giving back to her community, helping others live a better life and caring for others. In death she continues to help the world. Her legacy lives on in us and we thank you for saying her name – Henrietta Lacks.”An Iconic Story of Inequity, Injustice and Disparities in Health with Contemporary RelevanceToday, women of colour continue to be disproportionately affected by cervical cancer, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the many faultlines where health inequities persist among marginalized communities around the world. Studies in various countries consistently document that Black women are dying of cervical cancer at several times the rate of white women, while 19 of the 20 countries with the highest cervical cancer burdens are in Africa.  The family’s discussions with WHO especially focused on the Organization’s ambitious campaign to eliminate cervical cancer. The past year, which marked the 100th anniversary of Henrietta Lacks’ birth, coincides with the inaugural year of WHO’s Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer.  This historic campaign marks the first time ever that all WHO Member States have collectively resolved to eliminate a cancer.The family also joins WHO in advocating for equity in access to the HPV vaccine, which protects against a range of cancers, including cervical cancer.  Despite having been prequalified by WHO over 12 years ago, supply constraints and high prices still prevent adequate doses from reaching girls in low-and-middle income countries.As of 2020, less than 25% of low-income countries and less than 30% of lower-middle-income countries had access to the HPV vaccine through their national immunization programmes, compared with more than 85% of high-income countries.“It is unacceptable that access to the lifesaving HPV vaccine can be shaped by your race, ethnicity or where you happen to be born,” said Dr Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Strategic Priorities and Special Advisor to the Director General. “The HPV vaccine was developed using Henrietta Lacks’ cells.  Although the cells were taken without her consent and without her knowledge, she has left behind a legacy that could potentially save millions of lives. We owe it to her and her family to achieve equitable access to this groundbreaking vaccine.”Henrietta Lacks’ Remarkable Contribution to MedicineAs a young mother, Henrietta Lacks and her husband were raising five children near Baltimore when she fell ill.  She went to Johns Hopkins after experiencing extensive vaginal bleeding and was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Despite treatment, it cut her life short on October 4, 1951.  She was only 31 years old.During treatment, researchers took samples of her tumour.  That “HeLa” cell line became a scientific breakthrough: the first immortal line of human cells to divide indefinitely in a laboratory.  The cells were mass produced, for profit, without recognition to her family. Over 50,000,000 metric tonnes of HeLa cells have been distributed around the world, the subjects of over 75,000 studies.In addition to the HPV vaccine, HeLa cells allowed for development of the polio vaccine; drugs for HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, leukaemia, and Parkinson’s disease; breakthroughs in reproductive health, including in vitro fertilization; research on chromosomal conditions, cancer, gene mapping, and precision medicine; and are used in studies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.Following the presentation of the award, the family and WHO will proceed to the shores of Lake Geneva, to watch the city’s iconic Jet d’Eau illuminate in the colour teal – the colour for cervical cancer awareness – in honour of Henrietta Lacks’ legacy and in appreciation of the family’s support for the global campaign to eliminate the disease.  It is the first of several world monuments that will illuminate in teal between now and November 17th, marking the first anniversary of the launch of the global elimination campaign.Quotes from other participants“Through HELA100: The Henrietta Lacks Initiative, my family stands in solidarity with WHO and our sisters around the world to ensure that no other wife, mother or sister dies needlessly from cervical cancer,” said Victoria Baptiste, Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter. “As a registered nurse, I am proud to also be here today to honour my great grandmother’s legacy by advocating to ensure equitable access to the breakthroughs that her HeLa cells advanced such as the HPV vaccine. It is only fitting that as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of Henrietta Lacks’ HeLa cells and her untimely passing, we build upon her legacy by ensuring equitable access to advances in cancer prevention and treatment for all people.” “Though her life was cut short, Henrietta Lacks’ contributions to medicine have led to remarkable scientific breakthroughs, saving countless lives and bringing us closer to eliminating cervical cancer,” said Dr Senait Fisseha, Co-Chair of the Director-General’s expert advisory group on cervical cancer elimination. “Her story is also a clear example of how Black women have long been overlooked in healthcare and still are today. I applaud the WHO for recognizing her, a vital step in acknowledging the incredible impact she’s had on science and honouring her legacy in advancing health justice for people around the world.”“The fight to eliminate cervical cancer is part of the larger fight for human rights,” said Dr Groesbeck Parham, who participated in the civil rights movement as a teenager in Birmingham, Alabama, and is now Clinical Expert for WHO’s cervical cancer elimination initiative and Co-Chair of the Director-General’s expert advisory group. “Through her immortal cells, Mrs. Henrietta Lacks speaks to us, also calling our attention to the millions of young women and mothers in low-income countries who still continue to die from cervical cancer because they cannot access and afford to purchase the life-saving medicines, technologies and medical procedures that are readily available in high-income countries. The questions being raised by the spirit and legacy of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks are: ‘why does this situation exist’, ‘what are the solutions’, and ‘when are you going to implement them.’” 

  • WHO’s 10 calls for climate action to assure sustained recovery from COVID-19
    on October 8, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Countries must set ambitious national climate commitments if they are to sustain a healthy and green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.The WHO COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health, launched today, in the lead-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, spells out the global health community’s prescription for climate action based on a growing body of research that establishes the many and inseparable links between climate and health.“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the intimate and delicate links between humans, animals and our environment,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The same unsustainable choices that are killing our planet are killing people. WHO calls on all countries to commit to decisive action at COP26 to limit global warming to 1.5°C – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in our own interests. WHO’s new report highlights 10 priorities for safeguarding the health of people and the planet that sustains us.”The WHO report is launched at the same time as an open letter, signed by over two thirds of the global health workforce - 300 organizations representing at least 45 million doctors and health professionals worldwide, calling for national leaders and COP26 country delegations to step up climate action.“Wherever we deliver care, in our hospitals, clinics and communities around the world, we are already responding to the health harms caused by climate change,” the letter from health professionals reads. “We call on the leaders of every country and their representatives at COP26 to avert the impending health catastrophe by limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and to make human health and equity central to all climate change mitigation and adaptation actions.”The report and open letter come as unprecedented extreme weather events and other climate impacts are taking a rising toll on people’s lives and health. Increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, kill thousands and disrupt millions of lives, while threatening healthcare systems and facilities when they are needed most. Changes in weather and climate are threatening food security and driving up food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, while climate impacts are also negatively affecting mental health. The WHO report states: “The burning of fossil fuels is killing us. Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. While no one is safe from the health impacts of climate change, they are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.”Meanwhile, air pollution, primarily the result of burning fossil fuels, which also drives climate change, causes 13 deaths per minute worldwide.The report concludes that protecting people’s health requires transformational action in every sector, including on energy, transport, nature, food systems and finance. And it states clearly that the public health benefits from implementing ambitious climate actions far outweigh the costs.“It has never been clearer that the climate crisis is one of the most urgent health emergencies we all face,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health. “Bringing down air pollution to WHO guideline levels, for example, would reduce the total number of global deaths from air pollution by 80% while dramatically reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. A shift to more nutritious, plant-based diets in line with WHO recommendations, as another example, could reduce global emissions significantly, ensure more resilient food systems, and avoid up to 5.1 million diet-related deaths a year by 2050.”Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement would save millions of lives every year due to improvements in air quality, diet, and physical activity, among other benefits. However, most climate decision-making processes currently do not account for these health co-benefits and their economic valuation.    Notes to editors:WHO’s COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health, The Health Argument for Climate Action, provides 10 recommendations for governments on how to maximize the health benefits of tackling climate change in a variety of sectors, and avoid the worst health impacts of the climate crisis.The recommendations are the result of extensive consultations with health professionals, organizations and stakeholders worldwide, and represent a broad consensus statement from the global health community on the priority actions governments need to take to tackle the climate crisis, restore biodiversity, and protect health.Climate and Health RecommendationsThe COP26 report includes ten recommendations that highlight the urgent need and numerous opportunities for governments to prioritize health and equity in the international climate regime and sustainable development agenda.Commit to a healthy recovery. Commit to a healthy, green and just recovery from COVID-19.Our health is not negotiable. Place health and social justice at the heart of the UN climate talks.Harness the health benefits of climate action. Prioritize those climate interventions with the largest health-, social- and economic gains.Build health resilience to climate risks. Build climate resilient and environmentally sustainable health systems and facilities, and support health adaptation and resilience across sectors.Create energy systems that protect and improve climate and health. Guide a just and inclusive transition to renewable energy to save lives from air pollution, particularly from coal combustion. End energy poverty in households and health care facilities.Reimagine urban environments, transport and mobility. Promote sustainable, healthy urban design and transport systems, with improved land-use, access to green and blue public space, and priority for walking, cycling and public transport.Protect and restore nature as the foundation of our health. Protect and restore natural systems, the foundations for healthy lives, sustainable food systems and livelihoods.Promote healthy, sustainable and resilient food systems. Promote sustainable and resilient food production and more affordable, nutritious diets that deliver on both climate and health outcomes.Finance a healthier, fairer and greener future to save lives. Transition towards a wellbeing economy.Listen to the health community and prescribe urgent climate action. Mobilize and support the health community on climate action.Open Letter – Healthy Climate PrescriptionThe health community around the world (300 organizations representing at least 45 million doctors and health professionals) signed an open letter to national leaders and COP26 country delegations, calling for real action to address the climate crisis.The letter states the following demands:“We call on all nations to update their national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement to commit to their fair share of limiting warming to 1.5°C; and we call on them to build health into those plans;We call on all nations to deliver a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels, starting with immediately cutting all related permits, subsidies and financing for fossil fuels, and to completely shift current financing into development of clean energy;We call on high income countries to make larger cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, in line with a 1.5°C temperature goal;We call on high income countries to also provide the promised transfer of funds to low-income countries to help achieve the necessary mitigation and adaptation measures;We call on governments to build climate resilient, low-carbon, sustainable health systems; andWe call on governments to also ensure that pandemic recovery investments support climate action and reduce social and health inequities.”

  • WHO report highlights global shortfall in investment in mental health
    on October 8, 2021 at 7:42 am

    The World Health Organization’s new Mental Health Atlas paints a disappointing picture of a worldwide failure to provide people with the mental health services they need, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting a growing need for mental health support.The latest edition of the Atlas, which includes data from 171 countries, provides a clear indication that the increased attention given to mental health in recent years has yet to result in a scale-up of quality mental services that is aligned with needs. Issued every three years, the Atlas is a compilation of data provided by countries around the world on mental health policies, legislation, financing, human resources, availability and utilization of services and data collection systems. It is also the mechanism for monitoring progress towards meeting the targets in WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.“It is extremely concerning that, despite the evident and increasing need for mental health services, which has become even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, good intentions are not being met with investment,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “We must heed and act on this wake-up call and dramatically accelerate the scale-up of investment in mental health, because there is no health without mental health.”Lack of progress in leadership, governance and financingNone of the targets for effective leadership and governance for mental health, provision of mental health services in community-based settings, mental health promotion and prevention, and strengthening of information systems, were close to being achieved.In 2020, just 51% of WHO’s 194 Member States reported that their mental health policy or plan was in line with international and regional human rights instruments, way short of the 80% target. And only 52% of countries met the target relating to mental health promotion and prevention programmes, also well below the 80% target. The only 2020 target met was a reduction in the rate of suicide by 10%, but even then, only 35 countries said they had a stand-alone prevention strategy, policy or plan.Steady progress was evident, however, in the adoption of mental health policies, plans and laws, as well as in improvements in capacity to report on a set of core mental health indicators. However, the percentage of government health budgets spent on mental health has scarcely changed during the last years, still hovering around 2%. Moreover, even when policies and plans included estimates of required human and financial resources, just 39% of responding countries indicated that the necessary human resources had been allocated and 34% that the required financial resources had been provided.Transfer of care to the community is slowWhile the systematic decentralization of mental health care to community settings has long been recommended by WHO, only 25% of responding countries met all the criteria for integration of mental health into primary care. While progress has been made in training and supervision in most countries, the supply of medicines for mental health conditions and psychosocial care in primary health-care services remains limited.This is also reflected in the way that government funds to mental health are allocated, highlighting the urgent need for deinstitutionalization. More than 70% of total government expenditure on mental health was allocated to mental hospitals in middle-income countries, compared with 35% in high-income countries. This indicates that centralized mental hospitals and institutional inpatient care still receive more funds than services provided in general hospitals and primary health-care centres in many countries. There was, however, an increase in the percentage of countries reporting that treatment of people with specific mental health conditions (psychosis, bipolar disorder and depression) is included in national health insurance or reimbursement schemes – from 73% in 2017 to 80% (or 55% of Member States) in 2020.Global estimates of people receiving care for specific mental health conditions (used as a proxy for mental health care as a whole) remained less than 50%, with a global median of 40% of people with depression and just 29% of people with psychosis receiving care.Increase in mental health promotion, but effectiveness questionableMore encouraging was the increase in countries reporting mental health promotion and prevention programmes, from 41% of Member States in 2014 to 52% in 2020. However, 31% of total reported programmes did not have dedicated human and financial resources, 27% did not have a defined plan, and 39% had no documented evidence of progress and/or impact.Slight increase in the mental health workforceThe global median number of mental health workers per 100 000 population has increased slightly from nine workers in 2014 to 13 workers per 100 000 population in 2020. However, there was a very high variation between countries of different income levels, with the number of mental health workers in high-income countries more than 40 times higher than in low-income countries.New targets for 2030The global targets reported on in the Mental Health Atlas are from WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan, which contained targets for 2020 endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2013. This Plan has now been extended to 2030 and includes new targets for the inclusion of mental health and psychosocial support in emergency preparedness plans, the integration of mental health into primary health care, and research on mental health.“The new data from the Mental Health Atlas shows us that we still have a very long way to go in making sure that everyone, everywhere, has access to quality mental health care,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO. “But I am encouraged by the renewed vigour that we saw from governments as the new targets for 2030 were discussed and agreed and am confident that together we can do what is necessary to move from baby steps to giant leaps forward in the next 10 years.” Note for editors:The Atlas is being released in the lead-up to World Mental Health Day on 10 October, for which the focus this year is scaling up access to quality mental health care.