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CEO Perspective

Wrapping up UNGA – A look at the top three issues we have been watching

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 have again been on the agenda.

Here’s a look at three of the top issues we’ve been watching at the 78th UNGA along with highlights from our week.

1. Universal Health Coverage

At the UNGA High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, world leaders approved a new Political Declaration to redouble efforts towards UHC by 2030. It sets out a framework for developing and implementing national UHC plans to progressively cover 1 billion additional people and stopping the rise of catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenses.

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. 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 the 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.

2. Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

The 2023 SDG Summit marked 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.

At the summit, world leaders adopted a new Political Declaration reaffirming their commitment to the SDGs, to end poverty and hunger everywhere, combat inequalities and build peaceful societies that leave no one behind.

In this op-ed in Health Policy Watch, our CEO and President José Luis Castro states: “It is a time for reckoning and for action. A time to acknowledge that achieving the SDGs is not the responsibility of governments and philanthropists alone. We need everyone at the table, from grassroots civil society to academia, and multilateral finance and banking institutions, if we are going to accelerate progress on the SDGs.”

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.

Highlights from our week

World leaders meet to discuss how to accelerate progress to achieving the SDG goals by 2030.

The UN has identified 12 high-impact initiatives to boost progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Bringing these initiatives from discussion to action will require concerted collaboration and innovative partnerships.

In this op-ed in Health Policy Watch, our CEO and President José Luis Castro looks at four of the initiatives that illustrate the value of partnerships and the critical role public health plays across the SDGs. Read the op-ed here.

Pedro de Paula, Country Director, Brazil, Vital Strategies and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. Photo: Beatrice Moritz / Clinton Foundation

Vital Strategies announced a Commitment to Action at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) 2023 Meeting to scale up efforts to use innovative data analysis to create an early identification tool to recognize cases of gender-based violence in Brazil, using data from the Brazilian public health systems.

“Investments in data are a missing component of interventions to end gender-based violence,” said Pedro de Paula, Country Director, Brazil, Vital Strategies. “This Commitment to Action allows us to help fill gaps in Brazil’s health system to strengthen data use, improve services for women who experience violence, and drive much needed policies to address gender-based violence.”

Learn more at

José Luis Castro, President and CEO, Vital Strategies and Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO Director, signed the new agreement at the Vital Strategies office in New York.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Vital Strategies signed a new partnership agreement to improve the use of data and evidence to address health challenges in the Americas.

Through the agreement, both organizations have committed to work together in several areas to enhance data use for policy action. This includes vital statistics and cancer registries; data on commercial determinants of health, such as tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed foods; injury prevention, including drug policy, road safety, and gender-based violence; mental health and urban health. 

José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies (second from left) spoke at a UNGA side event: Preventing childhood obesity – A Climate & Sustainability Priority, hosted by UNICEF and the Consulate General of Denmark in New York on how we can create healthier food systems that both prevent both childhood obesity and environmental degradation.

Adam Karpati, Senior Vice President of our Public Health Programs (left), joined a Movendi International side event about the negative impact alcohol has on development and the SDGs and why we need stronger alcohol policies. He reflected on challenges and opportunities for advancing alcohol policy – based on experiences with our RESET Alcohol Initiative. Photo: Instagram @movendi_int

Ensuring access to quality, affordable medicines is a crucial step towards Universal Health Coverage. Vital Strategies hosted a roundtable discussion with the Union for International Cancer Control on the sidelines of UNGA to discuss this important issue.