The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of investing in public health and primary healthcare, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said, noting that at least a couple of coronavirus vaccines could be available by early next year.
Addressing the 15th JRD Tata Memorial Oration from Geneva, Ms Swaminathan highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on education, violence against women, reproductive health and services.
"Of the lessons that I have learned over the last nine or ten months, the most important one is the importance of investing in public health and primary healthcare," she said.
"We see examples of countries where investments in primary healthcare over the past decade or two have paid off. On the contrary, you have high income countries where they've been overwhelmed and haven't been able to put in place some of the mechanisms that have been needed," she said.
Ms Swaminathan said immunization for the novel coronavirus may be available by early next year.
"We are working on vaccines, which hopefully by the early part of 2021 we will have at least a couple of vaccines that have been proven to be safe and effective and that we can then start using in the most vulnerable and high-risk populations," she added.
Emphasising on the differential impact of the pandemic on women and children, Ms Swaminathan identified some key factors to address the gendered impact that included social services for women employed in the informal sector, the importance of sex and age disaggregated data and universal health coverage schemes such as Ayushman Bharat.
On the biggest learnings from the COVID-19, she said the pandemic taught the importance of global collaboration and solidarity, political will and leadership and community engagement and empowerment.
On the impact of COVID-19 on maternal and child mortality in low and middle income countries, she said the estimated coverage of essential mother and child health interventions reduced by 10-52 per cent and the prevalence of wasting increased by 10-50 per cent.