10 key global health moments from 2021

Innovation and inequities in the COVID-19 response

Inequities in access to health tools came into even sharper focus this year.

Over 8 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide but by the end of November, only 1 in 4 African health workers were fully vaccinated. A mere 0.4% of tests globally have been carried out in low-income countries.

Driving efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has led the charge for equity. We have set global vaccination targets and emphasized that the priority in every country, and globally, should be protecting those most at-risk, such as health workers and older people. As of 20 December 2021, we have validated 10 COVID-19 vaccines as safe, effective and high-quality and continually updated our therapeutics guidelines, reflecting the very latest clinical insights.

Collaboration is key to WHO’s COVID-19 response. The world’s best scientific brains came together to ask and answer the critical research questions needed to tackle COVID-19 under WHO’s Research and Development Blueprint. The ACT-Accelerator halved the cost of COVID-19 rapid tests for low and lower-middle income countries and procured over 148 million tests. Its vaccines arm, COVAX, delivered over three quarters of a billion doses globally, despite substantial challenges, such as vaccine hoarding and insufficient transparency from manufacturers. Throughout this uncertain year, we partnered closely with countries on preparing for rollouts.

WHO also launched an mRNA technology transfer hub initiative and is supporting a South African manufacturer in bringing the knowhow, data and technology together to develop production capacity to serve the region. 

Providing a great example of a transparent, global, non-exclusive agreement, the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool announced its first licence, which will allow all countries to manufacture a serological test developed by the Spanish National Research Council.

As our COVID-19 response continues apace, so do our preparedness efforts for future outbreaks. With Germany, we opened a Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence in Berlin. With Switzerland, we launched the first facility in our global BioHub system for rapidly and safely sharing pathogens, which will help assess risks and enhance global preparedness.

Globally, there have been over 100 Intra-Action Reviews by countries, who have used this tool to evaluate their COVID-19 responses and strengthen then in real time. In parallel, the pilot rollout of Universal Health and Preparedness Reviews has successfully recruited countries to learn from each other in assessing their readiness for the next pandemic while providing for and promoting the overall health of their populations.


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