Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi will deliver a speech at the opening session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 67th session of the Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean.
The session, which will be held virtually for the first time on 12-13 October, will discuss a range of topics and health issues related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
It will be attended by health ministers and high-level representatives from the 22 countries in the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region, as well as representatives from partner organisations and civil society.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, will also be speaking at the opening session, along with: WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari; and Saeed Namaki, Minister of Health and Medical Education to Iran.
During the two day session, the participants will discuss key public health issues of priority, and the regional impacts of the pandemic, both of which will take a prominent place on the agenda.
The pandemic has had a noticeable impact in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and the meeting will review the developments in the COVID-19 pandemic and its current status, including the regional response to the virus.
They will discuss the direct impacts of COVID-19 on morbidity and mortality rates, in addition to the pandemic’s wider impact on essential health services and on WHO’s future strategy.
While some countries have witnessed an intermittent or stable decrease in case numbers in recent weeks, new outbreaks and aftershocks have continued. At the same time, access to basic health services is currently considered below the desired level, due to the scarce resources that have been directed to combating the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated the challenges of providing medicine and vaccines, as supply chains have been closed. This has led to a shortage of medical products and increased their prices.
A new regional strategy has been developed to improve access to medicines and vaccines, taking into account lessons learned during the pandemic, which will be discussed during the session. The strategy aims to ensure that everyone in the region has access to essential, high-quality medicines and vaccines by 2030, without suffering financial hardship.
The Eastern Mediterranean Region is now the only WHO region in which polio is still endemic, after it was confirmed in August 2020 that disease had been eradicated from the African Region. Polio eradication is high on the agenda of the Regional Committee for this year.
Representatives will discuss a proposal to create a new sub-committee on polio eradication and outbreak response to mobilise efforts to eradicate polio.
While human resources and other assets of the regional polio eradication programme have contributed significantly to the COVID-19 pandemic response, the programme has also experienced setbacks. This has been due to reduced poliovirus surveillance activities, and the suspension of polio vaccination activities for four months during the recent pandemic.
Cases have already begun to rise again in the region in recent years. The failure to eradicate polio in the remaining wild poliovirus transmission area, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, could lead to a resurgence of the disease at the global level.
In addition, the regional committee will discuss progress in expanding family practice and engaging the private sector to promote universal health coverage, and strengthen health laboratory services. It will also review the implementation of the regional strategic framework for blood safety and availability.