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2022 Year In health: New Ebola and cholera outbreaks, mpox emergency, COVID-19 'not over

GRDAJ Dec.28:

The UN warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a cause for global concern, and outbreaks of cholera, Ebola and Monkeypox (now renamed mpox) led to the mobilization of health and aid workers to contain life-threatening illnesses.

The UN warned that the aim of eradicating HIV/AIDS by 2030 was under threat, but a new vaccine raised hopes that malaria can be beaten.

A global population weary of the chaos caused by COVID-19 pandemic had to contend with a new, highly transmissible variant at the beginning of the year: Omicron.

Omicron and on

This latest version swept across Europe, leading to record weekly case numbers, although the number of deaths was relatively low, compared to previous outbreaks.

And, although many countries began to relax lockdown and other restrictions on movements, the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out that the disease is still a threat: by August, one million COVID-19 related deaths had been recorded.

At the agency's World Health Assembly in May - the first to be held in-person since a pre-pandemic 2019 - the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged countries not to lower their guard.

"Is COVID-19 over? No, it's most certainly not over. I know that's not the message you want to hear, and it's definitely not the message I want to deliver", he told delegates.

A billion COVAX jabs delivered

Since early on in the pandemic, the WHO consistently called out the unequal distribution of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, urging for more to be done for those living in developing countries: the UN-backed COVAX facility, a multilateral initiative to provide equal vaccine access to all, reached a major milestone in January, when the billionth jab was recorded in Rwanda.

COVAX has undoubtedly saved many lives but, by March, Tedros was warning that a third of the world's population had still not received a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including a shocking 83 per cent of all Africans.

This lack of equity was still a problem in November, when a WHO report confirmed that lower-income countries consistently struggle to access essential inoculations in demand by wealthier countries.

"This is not acceptable to me, and it should not be acceptable to anyone", said Tedros. "If the world's rich are enjoying the benefits of high vaccine coverage, why shouldn't the world's poor? Are some lives worth more than others?"

AIDS eradication targets off-track

In 2021, there were 1.5 million new HIV infections and 650,000 AIDS-related deaths. UN Member States had demonstrated their commitment to ending the virus by the end of the decade, with the signing of a political declaration at the General Assembly in 2021, but it was clear this year that swifter action would be needed, if that goal is to be met.

A July report showed a slowing of the rate at which HIV infections decline, to 3.6 per cent between 2020 and 2021, the smallest annual decline in new HIV infections since 2016. The pandemic has thrived as COVID-19, and other global crises put a strain on resources, to the detriment of HIV programmes.