Today is #WorldHealthDay which marks the anniversary of the founding of the WHO in 1948. Each year, the WHO has a theme for this day – and this year’s theme is “Building a fairer, healthier world for everyone, everywhere.”
Let me tell you a personal story first and then get to some data.
✅ 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐒𝐓𝐎𝐑𝐘
As a global health epidemiologist, this theme is near and dear to my heart. It’s a dream-goal of mine to work at the UN or WHO (WHO is a specialized agency of the UN). Two years ago, I had the opportunity to go to the UN in NYC to advocate for universal health coverage for children along with several colleagues. While I was walking through those halls you see on movies or TV shows (like Madam Secretary, my favorite show), I passed by Angela Merkel (German Chancellor), rode an elevator with a main leader from Spain (and, totally held in all my comments of “oh my goodness, hi!!!!”), and then walked by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – Director of the WHO.
And, I couldn’t help myself. He’s been a hero of mine so I mustered up the courage to go ask for a picture while he was walking by. He not only took a few pictures with me, but he also talked with me about what I do in the world and why I was there. He was so kind and it felt like you were the only person in the room while he was talking to you. So, I got my picture and acted totally cool the whole time. #nailedit. Just kidding! See the first picture in this post on how well I did on not-fan-girling out. ha! 🤦♀️ I completely fan-girled and nailed that sentiment in the picture. I think I’m still saying something like, “I’m so thankful for what you do. My kids know who you are too”… and, other really impressive statements I said.
Those few days were full of talks on WHY we should have universal health coverage for all and what that means (I included some other pics on this post of that visit). The discussions were deep and multi-faceted approaches to HOW health could be provided equitably for all – including economic, social, logistical, equitable, structural, policy, and on-the-ground solutions. I was left with so much hope (and more dreams).
⭐ One of my biggest take-aways? 𝐓𝐨𝐨 𝐨𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐧 𝐰𝐞 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭-𝐬𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐰𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐢𝐭 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐨 𝐠𝐥𝐨𝐛𝐚𝐥 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐛𝐥𝐞𝐦𝐬, 𝐢𝐧𝐜𝐥𝐮𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜. 𝐖𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐤 𝐰𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲 𝐭𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐥𝐞 𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐛𝐥𝐞𝐦 𝐚𝐭 𝐚 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞. 𝐁𝐮𝐭, 𝐟𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐬, 𝐰𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐰 𝐠𝐮𝐦 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐰𝐚𝐥𝐤 𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞.
◾ It can be economy AND health. Pro-health means pro-economy.
(See these two posts for more: https://tinyurl.com/yy48tzaa
In fact, the more we invest in health, the stronger our economies are. But, only when we invest in ALL people’s health. My own work shows that if you invest in the health of children proactively, economies thrive. But, if we are reactive (like the US has been in the pandemic), economies tank and then have to recover. And, the poorer the country, the closer to the margins of poverty/food insecurity/poor health infrastructure, the LONGER that recovery is and the QUICKER the effects of poor health.
◾ We can do both. When you get the right people around the table and we value their voices/expertise/contributions, we can do both. It’s short-sighted to think otherwise. I saw that big table of very smart people modeled at that UN meeting.
(Another main take-away is the power of women at the UN and the pandemic. Did you know that women-led countries are doing better in their pandemic responses? Again, we can do this and could have done this better. You can read about my thoughts that here: To the Drs. https://tinyurl.com/yatwc4wy)
✅ 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐄𝐏𝐈𝐃𝐄𝐌𝐈𝐎𝐋𝐎𝐆𝐈𝐂 𝐃𝐀𝐓𝐀
On this World Health Day, I hope this post starts to open hearts that what we do individually matters to the population – not only the country where you live, but the whole world.
The rest of the pictures on this post show the vast inequitable distribution of vaccines in the world. My colleagues and dear friends in Africa are JUST beginning to finally get access to vaccines – that access is very minimal though. Widespread access is projected by be 2023 – this, my friends, is simply not fair.
◾ And, don’t think it’s because poorer countries are not being hit hard with the pandemic. They are and especially during this wave (I included that picture in this post). Limited testing skews the map too – so, it is likely much worse.
◾ From my colleagues on the ground, they are losing leading healthcare workers, deans of medical schools, and the elders of their communities. In some countries, there is only 1 pediatric surgeon for the entire country. So, if one dies from COVID-19, that is a major educational, health, leadership loss to the entire country. Do you see the unfairness of that? It affects children, families, and countries differently.
◾ So, loving our global neighbors includes equitable and timely vaccine distribution.
◾ Rich countries bought the majority of the global vaccine in 2020 unfairly. Yes, we put on our oxygen before we attend to others, like what we do on an airplane. 𝐁𝐮𝐭, 𝐖𝐄 𝐂𝐀𝐍 𝐃𝐎 𝐁𝐎𝐓𝐇. 𝐈𝐭’𝐬 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐫𝐭-𝐬𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐬𝐚𝐲 𝐰𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧’𝐭.
◾ Vaccine nationalism was one result of pulling out of the WHO in 2020. Thankfully, we have rejoined but now there is make-up time to do to ensure fair and just distribution of vaccines.
◾ That’s where COVAX comes in. At my trip at the UN, I sat right in front of one of the leaders at COVAX (yes, I fan-galled over that too). COVAX (part of the WHO, Global Vaccine Alliance [GAVI], and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations [CEPI]) is working incredibly hard to ask rich countries to share doses and make sure the 92 poorer countries will receive access at the same time as 98 wealthier countries.
✅ 𝐈𝐧 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐬, 𝐰𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐰 𝐠𝐮𝐦 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐰𝐚𝐥𝐤 𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐚𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞. 𝐖𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐧 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐯𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐬, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐬𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐬𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐞.
𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐬 ‘𝐆𝐥𝐨𝐛𝐚𝐥 𝐋𝐨𝐯𝐞 𝐎𝐮𝐫 𝐍𝐞𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐛𝐨𝐫𝐬’.
Happy World Health Day, web-peeps!
(These other pictures of me with my main colleague/mentor at the high-level meeting for universal health coverage. It was surreal to sit in that room with country leaders, main dignitaries/ambassadors, on-the-ground grassroot leaders from all over the world, and my mentor.)
Vaccine nationalism in rich countries: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/15/us/coronavirus-vaccine-doses-reserved.html
My thoughts on the power of women: – To the Drs. https://tinyurl.com/yatwc4wy)