J’can health expert praises WHO boss

THE opening speech by World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus at the 73rd World Health Assembly’s virtual meeting on Monday has been lauded by one local public health expert as “the most brilliant watershed speech by any WHO director general.

Dr Winston Davidson, professor of public health and health technology at the University of Technology, Jamaica, told the Jamaica Observer that the key points addressed in the director general’s speech serve as a guide for member states to map their way forward coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure they are not caught flat-footed should another such occurrence happen.

Further, Professor Davidson said the key points raised provide crucial focus elements for governments to zero in on over the next year.

“That speech is so strategic that people are going to keep referring to it for the next year, I can tell you that,” Dr Davidson said, following a release he sent to the press explaining the importance of the speech.

“This speech ought to be disseminated in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean communities, not to mention local community organisations and institutions such as schools and religious organisations, community colleges, and universities. Indeed the speech should be studied and used to inform development and economic policies by national policy, development, and economic institutions. The relevance of the speech to global and national development is timely and strategically important for all countries whose economic development models are presently at an existential crossroads,” Professor Davidson said.

He added: “As a public health specialist of almost 50 years of practice, I support the director general without reservation and congratulate the WHO and its professional and technical experts for its indefatigable scientific evidence-based, data-driven, fact-based, peer-reviewed scientific work. Most importantly, however, is the sharing of this work with the people in a manner that communicates with the ordinary people in grass-roots communities. Thank you WHO, and I urge you to continue your present style of work and the excellent content shared with us who live and work in the trenches in developing countries.”

In his speech, the WHO director general described the global pandemic as a dangerous enemy, with a dangerous combination of features, namely, the virus being efficient, fast, and fatal.

Dr Ghebreyesus further said that so unprecedented is the virus that if countries do not pay attention they will see a sudden explosion, as the virus moves like a bush fire.

The WHO director general said, too, that while countries have employed various measures to contain the virus, only a comprehensive approach will work universally.

“Over the past few months, we have learned an enormous amount about how to prevent infections and save lives. But there is no single action that has made the difference. Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not isolation, quarantine, hand hygiene or physical distancing alone. The countries that have done well have done it all. This is the comprehensive approach that WHO has called for consistently,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.

He added that there is no silver bullet, simple solution, panacea or one-size-fits-all approach to containing the spread of COVID-19; rather, it takes hard work, fidelity to science, learning and adapting, and member states employing common components in their various national strategies.

“A whole-of-government and whole-of-society response that engages and empowers people and communities to keep themselves and others safe; the commitment and capacity to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and trace and quarantine every contact; and special attention to vulnerable groups like people living in nursing homes, refugee camps, prisons and detention centres” are the atrategies required.

Every country, he said, must examine its response and learn from the pandemic.

“Whatever lessons there are to learn from this pandemic, the greatest failing would be to not learn from them and to leave the world in the same vulnerable state it was before. If there is anything positive to come from this pandemic, it must be a safer and more resilient world. This is not a new message…the world doesn’t need another plan, another system, another mechanism, another committee or another organisation,” he said.

– Kimberly Hibbert

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