Health minister calls for establishment of global humanitarian corridor

Lyonpo Dasho Dechen Wangmo was elected the President of the World Health Assembly, a position Bhutan is assuming for the first time since it became a member of the WHO in 1982

Health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo has been elected as the President of the 74th World Health Assembly and will hold office for a one-year term

Lhakpa Tshering

Health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo, who assumed the presidency of the World Health Assembly (WHA) has suggested setting up of a global humanitarian corridor at the 74th inaugural session of the WHA in Geneva, Switzerland.

She has been elected as the President of the highest decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO) with 194 countries as its member states, thus becoming the first Bhutanese to take charge as the president since it became a member in 1982. Lyonpo will hold the Office of the President for a term of one year.

In her presidential remarks following the election, Lyonpo called on member states to consider a global humanitarian corridor to ensure the seamless flow of medicines, vaccines, and other critical health commodities during pandemics and public health emergencies.

Lyonpo said she had advocated this in various global and regional health forums in the recent past to ensure resilience and enhanced preparedness during future health emergencies.

“I strongly feel that such displays of true solidarity would have a profound impact on public health and the lives of countless people all over the world, especially those living in harsher socio-economic environments,” she added.

Lyonpo went on to say that such critical systemic changes must be considered engendering more favourable public health outcomes during pandemics and other public health emergencies of global concern “as we forge ahead”.

With the looming threats of different variants across the world, Lyonpo said “we must now think of a global recourse” that is deeply rooted in the values of humanity and compassion that must rise above petty nationalism and reach out to every individual on this planet.

One such remarkable achievement, Lyonpo said, was the pace at which the Covid-19 vaccines were developed and rolled out for emergency use.

Emphasizing multilateral cooperation and global vaccine solidarity in the fight against the pandemic, she said, equitable access to vaccines and a comprehensive global vaccination drive is the only way forward to contain it.

“It is time now for the global community to come together as one to ensure that every country in the world gets sufficient doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to vaccinate every eligible citizen,” Lyonpo added.

Lyonpo said that it is only through the power of solidarity and cohesiveness that nations could overcome the global pandemic in the future. “We must remember that only solidarity and science, and not solitude will get us out of this pandemic,” she said. “Unless we walk the talk, we will not be able to move forward.”

While the ability of low- and middle-income countries to contain and prevent premature mortality from the pandemic has been limited by their access to diagnostics and therapeutics services, Lyonpo said it is further exacerbated by existing weakness in health-human resource, health infrastructure, health technology, health financing, and strong governance.

“The current pandemic has once again reminded us that, when it comes to critical and common global threats and concerns, the world is undeniably a singular unit and we must come together as one, to devise common solutions for problems that can affect us all,” she said.

Lyonpo summarized that these are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary interventions, and humanity and its wellbeing must at all times prevail over mere economic benefits. “Together, we must strive to make health the heartbeat of the development agendas,” she added.

Further, she noted that the WHA this year is historic and imperative for the way forward. “It is through the united presence that we can put our hearts and ideas together and draw strength to overcome this adversity,” Lyonpo said.

“We must continue to emulate and build forward on the good practices we have seen across the world in the fight against this pandemic and build a better future,” said Lyonpo.

In addition, concerning women, children, differently abled, and those with chronic diseases, Lyonpo said that it is often the most vulnerable in societies, who are affected to the greatest degrees during pandemics and global health emergencies.

“Thus, while designing and instituting our preparedness and response systems, we must re-look at the current systems and strategies to address their specific and special needs both during normal times and during public health emergencies,” said Lyonpo.

As the pandemic continues to threaten people’s health and well-being, Lyonpo also reminded it is important to keep routine health services running.

Calling the attention of the member states, Lyonpo also said that there is a greater need for a concerted investment to address the chronic issue such as preventable cancers, which she said would consume the world if left unattended.

Lyonpo thus informed the global forum that Bhutan tabled the agenda on eliminating cervical cancer during the last executive board meeting, saying “a cause that I have been truly and extremely passionate about”.