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10 global health issues to track in 2021

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World Health Organization, www.who.int

2020 was a devastating year for global health. A previously unknown virus raced around the world, rapidly emerging as one of its top killers, laying bare the inadequacies of health systems. Today, health services in all regions are struggling to both tackle COVID-19, and provide people with vital care.

In another blow, the pandemic threatens to set back hard-won global health progress achieved over the past two decades – in fighting infectious diseases, for example, and improving maternal and child health.

So in 2021, countries around the world will need to continue battle COVID-19 (albeit with the knowledge that effective tools are evolving). They will need to move swiftly to repair and reinforce their health systems so they can deliver these tools, and to address the key societal and environmental issues that result in some sections of the population suffering so much more than others. 

WHO and its partners will be at their side. We will work to help countries strengthen preparedness for pandemics and other emergencies. We will remind them of the importance of bringing countries together and of involving the whole government, not just the health sector. And we will support them in building strong health systems and healthy populations  

WHO will work with countries to improve their own preparedness for pandemics and health emergencies.

But for this to be effective, we will ensure that countries work together. Above all, this pandemic has shown us over and again, that no one is safe until everyone is safe.

We will also help tackle health emergencies in humanitarian settings that have been intensified by COVID-19. We will target support to better protect the most vulnerable communities against health emergency risks, including in urban settings, small island countries, conflict settings. 

We will leverage existing partnerships and create new ones to build a global health emergencies workforce to expand, train and standardize high-quality public health and medical assistance. We also plan to establish a Bio Bank – a globally agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical samples to facilitate the rapid development of safe and effective vaccines and medicines. And we will sustain our focus on getting accurate information to people, building on our work with key partners to protect populations from infodemics.