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Biggest challenge in 2021 is to ensure people in all countries get access to COVID-19 vaccine: WHO

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Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 17: The single biggest challenge in 2021 would be ensuring that people in all the countries, both rich and poor, get access to the COVID-19 vaccine, World Health Organisation's Assistant Director General Dr Peter Singer said on Wednesday.

Biggest challenge in 2021 is to ensure people in all countries get access to COVID-19 vaccine: WHO

Singer pointed out that WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had observed that the "world is on the brink of a moral catastrophe" as the vaccine distribution had so far been skewed in favour of high income countries.

He commended the role of Kerala and India in checking the spread of COVID-19 in the face of several difficulties and said "what we saw was a test of global solidarity" in 2020. He said there were clear signs of the pandemic receding as the number of recoveries had far exceeded the number of people still affected.

Also, the vaccination process was gaining momentum. Overcoming the pandemic was crucial to achieving the other UN goals such as reduction of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, gender inequality and air pollution, besides ensuring availability of clean water and sanitation, he said.

According to a state government release, Singer was addressing a virtual international conference on 'Kerala Health : Making the SDG A Reality', organised by the Health and Family Welfare Department of Kerala government. Singerexpressed hope that the situation was "quickly correcting now" following the approval of more and more vaccine candidates, including that of AstraZeneca and of Serum Institute of India.

The Special Advisor to the WHO Director General said 2021 would turn out to be the year of "vaccine equity." WHO was keen on ensuring equity "among countries and within individual countries" so that COVID-19 vaccines were available to all sections of people as this was crucial to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Universal Health Coverage, he said.

90 lakh COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in India so far

Singer acknowledged that all the countries were lagging behind in the matter of SDGs even before the outbreak of Covid-19. The pandemic had thrown the SDG goals further off-track and it would require a great deal of effort to cover the lost ground and restore and accelerate the momentum on health targets so that the goals could be achieved by 2030 as originally envisaged. "2022 is hopefully going to be primary healthcare- based recovery, for achieving SDGs," he said.

As for Kerala, he said tackling the high prevalence of hypertension and diabetes was the challenge in meeting social health parameters. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounted for most of the deaths across the globe, he pointed out. Former Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary Sujatha Rao said Universal Health Coverage (UHC) can be achieved only through a system anchored on primary health care (PHC), which requires micro-level planning and deliberate institutional reform.

Rajeev Sadanandan, Former state Additional Chief Secretary of Health and Family Welfare, said the huge prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases in Kerala will be a real burden for the state.

"To tackle it conventional strategies won't work. It is time the state turned to Artificial Intelligence and digitisation to counter the problem," he said. The speakers were part of a panel discussion on the inaugural day of the five-day Kerala Health Conference focusing on various aspects of health system development centered on the Sustainable Development Goals.

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