The Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has implored SADC members of parliament to unite and build resilient health systems, saying they are “the best defence against any health emergency”.
Ghebreyesus made the plea last week in a pre-recorded video message to MPs virtually attending the 47th Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum.
He stressed that unity among the region’s lawmakers regardless of political affiliation as well as the collaboration of member states would galvanise national and regional responses to the pandemic.
Covid-19 has claimed the lives of more than one million people all over the world.
Ghebreyesus said: “Political leadership must be united across political party lines and between countries. We are all in this together. As parliamentarians, you have a critical role to play in demonstrating the solidarity that is needed so badly to defeat this virus.”
On equity, Ghebreyesus implored the MPs to use their privileged positions as representatives of the people and as legislators to ensure the distribution of treatment services and vaccines in a manner that reaches populations with the greatest need.
He underscored the need for regaining trust and the dissemination of accurate information during a crisis like the one brought about by Covid-19.
“If we are to control this virus, it is critical that countries share up-to-date information,” he said.
Ghebreyesus is the first African to be appointed director general of the WHO. He became the first WHO official at his level to address the SADC PF, which brings together 15 national parliaments of southern Africa. He told the lawmakers that attaining development in the absence of good health was not easy.
“My brothers and sisters, Covid-19 has demonstrated that health is not just an outcome of development. It is a prerequisite. When we promote and protect health, we promote and protect jobs, businesses, education, gender equality, peace, sustainability and more,” he said.
Observers said by referring to the MPs as “my brothers and sisters”, Ghebreyesus remarkably appealed to pathos, put himself on the same level with his target audience and thus regarded them as co-creators of knowledge and solutions.
The director general said working together would not only end the pandemic but “build the healthier, safer, fairer Africa we all want”.
The SADC PF Plenary was held under the theme: ‘The Role of Parliaments in Strengthening Accountability during a pandemic: The Case of Covid-19.’
Ghebreyesus said a lot had been achieved in Africa towards containing widespread community transmission of Covid-19 and expanding testing. He, however, said many people were still susceptible and called for vigilance.
He stressed that the virus was still circulating, disrupting economies, upending health systems and jinxing efforts to respond to other communicable diseases. In some cases, immunization programmes were being compromised, while politicization of public health and weak governance and other challengers were creating gaps in which the virus could thrive.
Ghebreyesus commended the SADC PF for creating a platform for the exchange of experiences and providing leadership on health issues, including Covid-I9.
While pledging WHO’s commitment to helping countries respond to the pandemic, he enjoined the parliamentarians to support efforts towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
SADC PF is already rallying the region’s MPs behind UHC, which was the theme of the 46th Plenary Assembly Session which took place in Swakopmund, Namibia last year.