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Statement from José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies, on World Health Day, April 7, 2021

“Together, let’s reimagine public health to serve everyone, everywhere.”

April 7, 2021 (New York) – “Fairness and equity have taken center stage in conversations about vaccine distribution and pandemic recovery plans. While many see hope in vaccination, a jab won’t protect us unless everyone is protected. COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere.

The pandemic revealed deep inequities in our health systems and societies. Many people had no choice but to risk exposure to keep their jobs. In the United States, Black, Indigenous and Latinx people were hospitalized with COVID-19 at triple the rate of white people. In high-income countries, vaccination rates are also significantly lower in poorer communities. At a global level, high-income countries secured the bulk of the COVID-19 vaccines leaving many countries with limited access or supply.

On this World Health Day, let’s seize the opportunity to build health systems that are better, stronger and more equitable. We must leverage public interest and political will to improve public health. This means learning from the countries that best addressed COVID-19: Those that provided strong and coordinated leadership across agencies and levels of government were guided by science, considered issues of equity and fairness, and regularly communicated with the public.

Many of those same countries are also leaders in preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension, which cause nearly 80% of premature deaths worldwide. COVID-19 is particularly cruel to people living with noncommunicable diseases—they are more likely to be hospitalized and are at higher risk of dying.

Governments can tilt economies away from ill health by ending subsidies for products with negative impacts on health—tobacco, alcohol, fossil fuels and others—and by taxing unhealthy commodities. This will reduce health care costs and generate revenue for social good. Policies can make the healthy choice the default choice for people. Healthy public policies can make public spaces free of tobacco smoke, inform consumers with clear warning labels on packaged food, and promote smart city designs that create safer spaces for walking, biking and playing and promote social engagement. Governments can also invest more in their public health agencies, which are essential—not just in moments of crisis—and in collecting and disseminating data about inequities in health.

We’re at a defining moment in public health. Our post-COVID-19 future relies upon the choices we make today. We must seize this opportunity to transform knowledge into action, strengthen health systems and center equity in all we do. Addressing inequities in health care, income, employment and social status are public health interventions just as much as vaccination campaigns. Together, let’s reimagine public health to serve everyone, everywhere.”

About José Luis Castro

José Luis Castro is the President & CEO of Vital Strategies, where he has led a rapid expansion of Vital Strategies’ portfolio, working with governments to tackle the world’s leading killers, primarily in low- and middle-income countries. The organization now reaches into 73 countries and has touched the lives of more than 2 billion people.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.

To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat

Media Contacts

Christina Honeysett, choneysett@vitalstrategies.org

Ally Davis, adavis@vitalstrategies.org