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COVID-19 underscored importance of investing in public health: WHO chief scientist

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New Delhi, Oct 21: The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of investing in public health and primary healthcare, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Wednesday.

COVID-19 underscored importance of investing in public health: WHO chief scientist

Addressing the 15th JRD Tata Memorial Oration from Geneva, she highlighted the impact of the pandemic on education, violence against women, reproductive health and services. "Of the lessons that I have learned over the last nine or 10 months, the most important one is the importance of investing in public health and primary healthcare.

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"We see examples of countries where investments in primary healthcare over the past decade or two have paid off. On the contrary, you have high-income countries where they've been overwhelmed and haven't been able to put in place some of the mechanisms that have been needed," she said.

Emphasising on the differential impact of the pandemic on women and children, Swaminathan identified some key factors to address the gendered impact, including social services for women employed in the informal sector, importance of sex and age disaggregated data and universal health coverage schemes such as Aayushman Bharat.

On the biggest learnings from the COVID-19, the WHO chief scientist said the pandemic taught the importance of global collaboration and solidarity, political will and leadership, and community engagement and empowerment.

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About the impact of COVID-19 on maternal and child mortality in low- and middle-income countries, she said the estimated coverage of essential maternal and child health interventions reduced by 10-52 per cent and the prevalence of wasting is increased by 10-50 per cent.

Population Foundation of India's Executive Director, Poonam Muttreja, said, "This year's oration is a special time for us. It is our 50th anniversary. JRD Tata is among our key founders." "We strongly believe that if our founding fathers were here today, they would be proud to see the difference the Population Foundation of India has made to the lives of millions of people, particularly girls and women," she added.

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