This year, on 7 April 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) will mark its 75th anniversary, along with its 194 Member States and other partners, by calling for a renewed drive for health equity- and health for everyone.

Seventy-five years ago, in the aftermath of the deadliest and most destructive war in human history, the Constitution of the World Health Organization came into force: a treaty between the nations of the world, who recognized that health was not only a fundamental human right, but also fundamental to peace and security.

Extraordinary progress
Over the past seven and a half decades, there has been extraordinary progress in protecting people from diseases and destruction, including smallpox eradication, reducing the incidence of polio by 99%, saving millions of lives through childhood immunization, declines in maternal mortality and improving health and well-being for millions more.

“The history of WHO demonstrates what is possible when nations come together for a common purpose,” noted Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, the Director-General of WHO.

“We have much to be proud of, but much work to do to realize our founding vision of the highest attainable standard of health for all people. We continue to face vast inequities in access to health services, major gaps in the world’s defences against health emergencies, and threats from health harming products and the climate crisis. We can only meet these global challenges with global cooperation,” Ghebreyesus added.

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To meet these challenges, WHO is urging countries to take urgent action to protect, support and expand the health workforce as a strategic priority. Investments in education, skills and decent jobs for health need to be prioritized to meet the rapidly growing demand for health and avert a projected shortage of 10 million health workers by 2030; primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

Global education
A global education programme on basic emergency care targeting 25% of nurses and midwives from 25 low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2025 was also recently announced by WHO. This 25x25x25 emergency care programme will provide nurses and midwives with the skills and competencies to make a major difference in saving lives and reducing disabilities.

Looking forward to the next 75 years and close to the turn of the next century, a renewed commitment to health equity will be the key to addressing future health challenges. In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO’s roadmap to recovery includes an urgent paradigm shift towards promoting health and well-being and preventing disease by addressing its root causes and creating the conditions for health to thrive. WHO is urging countries to provide health by prioritizing primary health care as the foundation of universal health coverage.

Fundamental need
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that protecting health is fundamental to our economies, societies, security and stability.

Learning from the worst pandemic in recent history, WHO stands ready to support the countries of the world as they negotiate a pandemic accord, the revision of the International Health Regulations and other financial, governance and operational initiatives to prepare the world for future pandemics.

Cancer and disparities
The global cancer burden figures, published in 2022, estimates that there were 2.26 million incident breast cancer cases in 2020 and the disease is the leading cause of cancer mortality in women worldwide. The report shows that the incidence of (breast) cancer is strongly correlated with human development, with a large rise in cases anticipated in regions of the world that are currently undergoing economic transformation. However, the overall survival is far less favorable in less developed regions. [1]

Epidemiologic trends in the last decades show three main patterns of breast cancer mortality. Some high-income countries report continuous substantial improvements exceeding 2% annual mortality reduction. Unfortunately, the date shows that improvements in overall survival in many low- and middle-income countries have been stagnant or even show increasing mortality rates.[2]

There are multiple reasons and factors behind these disparities, including delays in diagnosis, lack of access to effective treatment, and lack of funding. The World Health Organization’s new Global Breast Cancer Initiative was launched to address this urgent global health challenge.[1]

The Global Breast Cancer Initiative address key determinants of the cancer-related outcomes: health promotion and early detection, timely access to diagnosis and treatment, comprehensive breast cancer treatment, palliative and survivorship care.

The Global Breast Cancer Initiative is a systematized approach to increase the fraction of newly diagnosed invasive cancers being stage 1 or 2 at diagnosis (60% or more), ensure diagnostic work-up to be completed within 60 days from the first connection with the primary healthcare providers to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment and assure 80% or more women with breast cancer to undergo and complete multimodal treatments. [2]

This approach is part of The Who=investment, over the past five years, in science and digital health, creating a Science Division led by the Organization’s first Chief Scientist. This has come at a time when science is under sustained attack every day. Countries must protect the public from misinformation and disinformation.

The future of health depends on how well we power health through science, research, innovation, data, digital technologies, and partnerships.

[1] Wilkinson L, Gathani T. Understanding breast cancer as a global health concern. Br J Radiol. 2022 Feb 1;95(1130):20211033. doi: 10.1259/bjr.20211033. Epub 2021 Dec 14. PMID: 34905391; PMCID: PMC8822551.
[2] Trapani D, Ginsburg O, Fadelu T, Lin NU, Hassett M, Ilbawi AM, Anderson BO, Curigliano G. Global challenges and policy solutions in breast cancer control. Cancer Treat Rev. 2022 Mar;104:102339. doi: 10.1016/j.ctrv.2022.102339. Epub 2022 Jan 19. PMID: 35074727.

Featured image by Hush Naidoo Jade Photography on Unsplash

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