World leaders tasked on vaccine equity, pandemic preparedness, others

• More countries ask workers to show COVID-19 ‘green pass’

• WHO, ILO say work-related diseases, injuries responsible for 1.9m deaths

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged leaders attending the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to guarantee equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and other life-saving tools, ensure the world is better prepared to respond to future pandemics, and renew efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed the lives of nearly 5 million people around the globe as the virus continues to circulate actively in all regions.

Vaccines are the most critical tool to end the pandemic and save lives and livelihoods. More than 5.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally. However, 73 per cent of these have been administered in just 10 countries.

High-income countries have administered 61 times more doses per inhabitant than low-income countries. The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating, and the longer social and economic disruptions will continue.

WHO’s targets are to vaccinate at least 40 per cent of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70 per cent by the middle of next year. These targets are achievable if countries and manufacturers make a genuine commitment to vaccine equity.

WHO urged the world leaders to seize the moment and commit to concerted action, adequate resources and solidarity, and build a better future for people and the planet.

This came as Italy joined many countries making it compulsory for all workers to have a COVID ‘green pass’ as proof of vaccination, a negative test or recovery from the virus. The measures are a first for Europe and some of the strictest in the world.

The green pass was initially introduced to make travel within the EU more efficient. Several countries have since introduced requirements for people to show the certificate for different reasons.

Meanwhile, work-related diseases and injuries were responsible for the deaths of 1.9 million people in 2016, according to the first joint estimates from WHO and International Labour Organisation (ILO).

According to the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000-2016: Global Monitoring Report, the majority of work-related deaths were due to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Non-communicable diseases accounted for 81 per cent of the deaths. The greatest causes of deaths were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (450,000 deaths), stroke (400,000 deaths) and ischemic heart disease (350,000 deaths). Occupational injuries caused 19 per cent of deaths (360,000 deaths).

The study considers 19 occupational risk factors, including exposure to long working hours and workplace exposure to air pollution, asthmagens, carcinogens, ergonomic risk factors, and noise. The key risk was exposure to long working hours, linked to approximately 750,000 deaths. Workplace exposure to air pollution (particulate matter, gases and fumes) was responsible for 450,000 deaths.

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