WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for greater global co-operation to stop future pandemics during a Thursday press conference to mark the 75th anniversary of the global health body.
Dr Tedros renewed calls for the creation of a global pandemic treaty and said that humanity would “not be able to forgive ourselves” if lessons learnt during the Covid-19 outbreak were not acted upon.
Speaking from the WHO's headquarters in Geneva, Dr Tedros said the world had made significant strides in improving public health in recent decades, pointing to declines in child and maternal mortality, as well as the eradication of serious diseases.
Life expectancy has also risen from 46 to 73 years in the past seven decades, he added, with the biggest rises in the poorest countries.
“We cannot claim sole credit, but we have played a leading role in all of these achievements,” he told journalists, and added that the world needs the WHO “more than ever” due to remaining public health challenges.
These include the growth of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, which he said are driven by unhealthy diets. And he added that air pollution and climate change were “jeopardising the very habitability of our planet”.
“The WHO's story began 75 years ago and its story is still being written. Our vision remains unchanged — the highest possible standard of health for all people,” he said.
The world body in 2021 outlined plans to create pandemic accords that would create a blueprint for tackling future pandemics. But reports suggest that countries have been involved in significant wrangling over the terms of the treaty, which is still at least a year away from being finalised.
“If we are serious about the lessons that we learnt, then we will find solutions so we are not be confronted by the same mistakes,” Dr Tedros said. “Let's not allow ourselves to repeat the same mistakes”.
However, he said he believes that countries “will come to a balancing act” to make the treaty “as good as possible”.
“Everyone understands that we need an accord. This week, there are areas where progress has been made and areas that need negotiation,” he said.
In addition, he said that all hypotheses on the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic remained “on the table”, including the theory that the disease was caused by a leak from a laboratory in Wuhan, China.
“Without full access to the information that China has, you cannot say this or that,” he said in response to a question about the virus's origins.
“All hypotheses are on the table. That's WHO's position and that's why we have been asking China to be co-operative on this.
“If they would do that, then we will know what happened or how it started.”