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The U.N. General Assembly: Three of Our Top Priorities

Vital Strategies

Every September, leaders from around the world gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year, key public health issues are again on the agenda.

Here’s a look at three of the top issues we’re watching at the 78th UNGA.

1. Universal Health Coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed nearly 7 million lives to date. We’ve seen how vulnerable health systems, economies, communities and families can be to shocks. The inequitable distribution of health resources during the pandemic made even clearer the need for universal health coverage and more robust public health systems for all. The 2023 High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage on Sept. 21 is an opportunity to renew efforts and accelerate progress toward providing equitable access to health care for all. Governments must invest in universal health coverage and they already have at hand a tool that can yield multiple gains: taxing unhealthy commodities.

We call on governments to apply fiscal solutions, including taxes on products that cause disease, including tobacco, sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol and fossil fuels and remove subsidies for industries promoting these products. These taxes can raise funds for health care while driving down consumption of these leading drivers of noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and lung disease, which claim 41 million lives a year, most of them in low- and middle-income countries. Research shows people are more likely to accept taxes if the money goes toward something they need and care about, such as health care services.

2. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

UNGA will also play host to the 2023 SDG Summit, marking the halfway point to the deadline set for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. But progress on many critical goals has slowed, stopped and in some cases retreated. Half of the 140 targets are off-track and a third are at or below their 2015 baselines. The summit will focus on 12 initiatives highlighted by the UN with the greatest potential to boost progress. We would like to see progress on targets for food policy, alcohol policy and tobacco control – World Health Organization best buys, which are relatively easy and low cost to enact.

Now is the time for reckoning and for action, and we need everyone at the table if we are going to make progress. The SDGs can’t be the responsibility of governments and donors alone.

3. Better Data to Count Every Birth and Death

Strong public health systems also require robust data. Civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems are critical to measuring and achieving progress on SDGs. Without accurate information on births and deaths, governments are flying blind, unable to measure impact or to set health priorities and policies. It’s time for every person to count. Governments must invest in strong CRVS systems that give everyone a legal identity and the rights and protections it provides. #CountingEveryone is a critical step towards achieving the SDGs and health for all. We recommend watching our roundtable on moving Toward a World Where Everyone Counts.