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Global health achievements and challenges in 2023

The World Health Organization celebrated its 75th birthday in 2023, and despite multiple health-related crises, there were many reasons for hope.

In this year-end review, some of the highlights of 2023 included:

The year began with WHO responding to a major earthquake in Türkiye and Syria and is ending with the horrific war in Gaza. In between, the world has seen many other crises, conflicts, and the continuing threat of disease outbreaks and climate change.

This year, WHO responded to 65 emergencies, including 22 new ones. And 2023 had its share of those: earthquakes in Afghanistan, Nepal, Syria and Türkiye; devastating floods in Libya, Pakistan and South Sudan; heatwaves, wildfires, drought and more. Deploying emergency medical teams, sending emergency medical aid and helping countries cope with the mid- and long-term health impacts of these: this is some of what WHO did.

Many of these were related to conflict as countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Myanmar, Sudan, Ukraine and others saw worsening conflict and insecurity. In these countries, WHO mobilized to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks; strengthened access to essential health services, including hospital capacity to do everything from delivering new babies to treating war injuries; trained health care workers; supplied essential medicines and medical equipment; and worked to enable – and where possible, strengthen – laboratory capacity to diagnose diseases. At times, WHO staff went above and beyond, risking their lives to deliver health care alongside our partners across the humanitarian system.

WHO coordinated the health assistance provided by 900 partners to meet the needs of 107 million crisis-affected people in 29 countries.


Every day, somewhere in the world, a WHO team heads out to investigate an outbreak alongside Ministry of Health experts and health workers from local communities, where health outbreaks are first detected and are first brought under control. This year saw a record-breaking resurgence of many infectious diseases – anthrax, chikungunya, cholera, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, dengue, diphtheria, influenza, RSV – that needed a coordinated regional and global response. Other outbreaks included Lassa Fever in Nigeria and Ebola disease in Uganda, as well as Marburg virus disease in Equatorial Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania. WHO supported transportation of samples, laboratory testing in countries both centrally and locally, and the establishment of national genomic sequencing capacities. WHO also helped governments investigate cases, trace contacts of patients, set up field hospitals and more to contain the outbreaks and save lives.

Health care has also been under attack. This year alone, WHO documented over 1200 attacks on health care, affecting workers, patients, hospitals, clinics, and ambulances, across 19 countries and territories, resulting in over 700 deaths and nearly 1200 injuries.

COVID-19 and mpox
Amidst all the crises, there has also been positive news this year. In May, following the convening of the relevant Emergency Committees, WHO’s Director-General declared an end to two Public Health Emergencies of International Concern: COVID-19 and mpox, while also stating that the threats from both are not over.

With a continued threat of COVID-19, and the looming threat of an influenza pandemic, WHO continues to expand its networks to track respiratory pathogens with pandemic potential, utilizing its Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System and CoViNet to monitor the evolution of these pathogens, conduct risk assessments, and prepare for a potential vaccine when the need arises.

Through all its work, WHO is committed to leverage the gains made during the COVID-19 pandemic to support Member States in facing and successfully managing current and future threats.

Climate change and health
Although faced with record numbers of climate-related health challenges, and crises from new and expanding conflicts, millions of health and care workers continued striving: to protect more people from illness and suffering, to build resilience and preparedness in an increasingly turbulent world, to achieve a common goal: to give everyone everywhere the best possible chance at a safe and healthy life.

In a historic first, the organizers of COP28 hosted a dedicated health day in response to the climate-related health crisis affecting at least 3.5 billion people – nearly half of the global population. Extreme heat, weather events and air pollution caused millions of deaths in 2023, putting enormous pressure on health systems and workforce.

A new COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health was signed by over 130 countries at the UN Climate Conference. The Declaration advocates for a rapid increase in political and financial commitments, and concrete action to protect people from the devastating health impacts of the climate crisis.

Disease elimination
Here are just some of the global health highlights that offered hope in 2023.

The year 2023 was a record year for disease elimination, with several countries eliminating infectious diseases thanks to dedicated national efforts, and collaborative action by countries and health partners worldwide.

In March, WHO certified Azerbaijan and Tajikistan malaria-free, followed by Belize in June. Malaria affects some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and these extraordinary achievements demonstrate how a malaria-free future can become a reality.

Egypt became the first country in the world to achieve « gold tier” status on the path to eliminate hepatitis C – an important milestone towards the goal of achieving full elimination of the disease before 2030. This is an astonishing turnaround for a country that had one of the world’s highest rates of hepatitis C infection less than 10 years ago.

As of today, 50 countries have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease (NTD), in line with WHO’s ambitious target of having 100 countries achieve this milestone by 2030. Ghana, Benin, Mali, Iraq, Bangladesh, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic all eliminated neglected tropical diseases in their countries.

Delivering vaccines
As of November 2023, 72% of people worldwide had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 13.6 billion doses administered around the world, preventing severe illness and hospitalizations for millions of people.

We began to see promising signs of recovery in levels of childhood immunization after the backsliding that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in the year, global partners announced “The Big Catch-up”: a coordinated effort to reverse the declines in childhood vaccination, strengthening health systems and working towards a future where no child dies of a vaccine-preventable disease.

Another important milestone during the year was WHO’s recommendation of a new vaccine for malaria prevention, providing hope to bolster malaria prevention and save hundreds of thousands of young lives in the African Region. There are now two life-saving vaccines that have been shown to be safe and effective in preventing malaria in children.

In addition, a new dengue vaccine was recommended for introduction in settings with high disease burden. The new vaccine offers hope against the mosquito-transmitted infection, of which half of the world’s population is estimated to be at risk.

Meanwhile, there was promising news in the fight against meningitis, as WHO prequalified a novel meningococcal conjugate vaccine and issued a policy for its use in the countries of the African meningitis belt, which are affected by seasonal epidemics. Men5CV has the potential to drastically change the fight against meningitis, as it is expected to be more affordable and accessible to countries in the meningitis belt than other available vaccines.

Poor and marginalized women are still disproportionately affected by cervical cancer, but there is cause for optimism with strong progress on HPV vaccination. Particularly encouraging is the progress on coverage of the single-dose recommendation endorsed by WHO. A further 30 countries have introduced the vaccine, including some with high levels of cervical cancer such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nigeria. This brings the worldwide total to 140 countries, well on the way to reaching the 2030 goal of ensuring widespread availability of HPV vaccines for all girls worldwide.

Non-communicable diseases
During the year, WHO announced that 5.6 billion people – 71% of the world’s population – are now protected with at least one WHO best practice policy to help save lives from tobacco. This is five times more than in 2007. In the 15 years since WHO’s MPOWER tobacco control measures were introduced globally, smoking rates have fallen and almost 40% of countries now have smoke-free indoor public places.

In another first, WHO released its first-ever report on the devastating global impact of high blood pressure: 1 in 3 adults are affected by the condition. The report indicated that approximately 4 out of every 5 people with hypertension are not adequately treated, but if countries can scale up coverage, 76 million deaths could be averted between 2023 and 2050.

Since it was established in 2019, WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health has helped bring community mental health services to 50 million more people, with at least 320 000 girls, boys, women and men receiving services for mental, neurological, and substance use conditions for the first time. The Special Initiative is being implemented across WHO’s 6 regions, in Argentina, Bangladesh, Ghana, Jordan, Nepal, Paraguay, the Philippines, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

The new WHO Global status report on road safety 2023 shows that, since 2010, the number of annual road traffic deaths has fallen by 5% to 1.19 million.

Among UN Member States, 108 countries reported a drop in road traffic-related deaths between 2010 and 2021. Ten countries succeeded in reducing road traffic deaths by over 50%.

However, there is still more work to be done. Road traffic crashes kill more than two people per minute. Pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users are facing an acute and rising risk of death, with nine out of ten deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

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