World is Off Track to Meet ‘Triple Billion’ Health Targets
Some of the areas covered by the WHO Results Report

“The world is off track to reach most of the Triple Billion targets and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director General  Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

His comments were part of the WHO Results Report 2023 released on Tuesday.

The triple billion targets involve one billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage, one billion more people better protected from health emergencies, and one billion more people enjoying better health and well-being by 2025. 

Using data from 174 countries, the report shows some progress towards the 46 targets, however.

One billion enjoying better health? Yes

The current trajectory indicates that the target of 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being will likely be met by 2025, driven primarily by improvements in air quality and access to water, sanitation and hygiene measures, according to the summary.  

But the progress will be insufficient to reach all the health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, with only one target on tobacco use likely to be met.

Tobacco use is declining in 150 countries, 56 of which are on track to achieve the global target of reducing tobacco use by 2025. There are 19 million fewer current tobacco users globally than there were two years ago.

Forty-five countries also reduced their road traffic deaths by 30% or more.

But adult obesity continues to rise in all WHO regions, with no immediate sign of reversal. Ambient air pollution continues to be a challenge in many areas of the world. 

One billion access to universal health coverage? No

The world is off track to meet the target of one billion more people benefiting from universal health coverage by 2025. However, 30% of countries have made progress on both the coverage of essential health services and the provision of financial protection. 

But “the overall measures of progress are largely driven by increased HIV service coverage”, according to the WHO. 

Over three-quarters of people living with HIV globally are receiving antiretroviral therapy and almost all of those who are receiving treatment are achieving viral suppression, which means that they cannot infect others. 

Global HIV services are the beneficiary of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has strengthened health systems in many countries, particularly in Africa.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted progress on childhood vaccination and tuberculosis and service coverage for malaria, non-communicable diseases and preventive services continue to lag.  

But the world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01, was administered to more than two million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi during the biennium, reducing mortality by 13% among children eligible for vaccination. WHO’s prequalification of a second vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, is expected to further boost malaria control efforts. 

Indicators for financial hardship has worsened with 13.5% of households spending 10% or more of their income on health services (vs 13% in 2017).

Management of diabetes has also worsened. 

One billion better protected from health emergencies? No

Although the coverage of vaccinations for high-priority pathogens shows improvement since the pandemic-related disruptions in 2020–2021, it has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. 

But there has been a 62% increase (from 103 to 167) in the proportion of member states with genomic sequencing capability for SARS-CoV-2 between February 2021 and December 2023. Angola, Bahamas, Central African Republic, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Maldives and Sudan are among the countries that have gained a sequencing capacity.

The Pandemic Fund made its first round of $338 million disbursements to 37 countries in 2023 to assist them to bolster systems to prevent and respond to pandemics and outbreaks.

However, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB) still has not come up with a pandemic agreement, while the Working Group on Amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) seems close to agreement on amendments to present to the Seventy-seventh World Health Assembly which starts on 27 May.

“With concrete and concerted action to accelerate progress, we could still achieve a substantial subset of [the targets]. Our goal is to invest even more resources where they matter most—at the country level—while ensuring sustainable and flexible financing to support our mission,” said Tedros.

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