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5 issues we’re watching at the U.N. General Assembly’s 76th Session

Vital Strategies

Amid ongoing public health emergencies, health will be high on the agenda as world leaders meet for the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York. The world is facing multiple global public health challenges, from the ongoing pandemic and vaccine inequity to climate change, while lack of trust in governments, the media and scientists has made addressing these challenges more difficult.

Last year, U.N. Member States discussed the urgent need to build back better for a more equal, resilient and sustainable world, recognizing that efforts toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be fast-tracked to confront pressing interrelated health, climate and security issues.

Here are five issues we are following closely this during this General Assembly session:

1. Global Health Security

Many governments are pushing to bolster the World Health Organization’s ability to coordinating the global response to health emergencies and  efforts to advance longer-term public health . The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has called on the assembly to more swiftly identify and respond to pandemics by creating a Global Health Threats Council to keep countries accountable.

2. Promoting vaccine equity

Vaccine equity is a way out of the COVID-19 crisis. Governments are likely to push for the WHO and its partners to strengthen the role of the Access to COVID-19 tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility, which hassecured more than 1.4 billion vaccine doses and shipped more than 40 million doses to 119 countries. While this is a major accomplishment, it clearly has more work to do.

3. Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely set back efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal targets. With just under 10 years to go to deliver on the lofty commitments by 2030, just two of the 17 goals — eliminating preventable deaths among newborns and under-5s, and getting children into primary schools — were on the brink of realization before the COVID-19 pandemic began. A significant lack of health financing continues to greatly challeng the ability of countries to achieve SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all.

4. Addressing Climate Change

Climate change has increased the likelihood of extreme weather and is also an urgent public health crisis as from excessive heat, air pollution and other impacts lead to preventable illness and death. Member States will likely discuss the Paris Agreement and upcoming United Nations Climate Conference (COP 26) to be held in November, with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report underscoring the urgent need for coordinated climate action.

5. Food Systems Summit

The UN Food Systems Summit, to be held alongside the U.N. General Assembly meeting, will seek to advance an agenda for Sustainable Development Goal 2, which focuses on an approach to food that protects the rights of local farmers and indigenous people. Ideally, the summit will bring some attention to the difficult work of wresting control of our food systems away from profit-driven corporations and return it to local food producers and communities.

Read more in our latest blog: 76th U.N. General Assembly Session Marked by Urgency

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What to Watch

This new TV campaign ran in Vietnam this year, to encourage the enforcement of smoke-free laws in indoor public spaces, including restaurants.