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ESMO Call for Pandemic Preparedness to Include Secondary and Tertiary Care Acknowledged at UN High-Level Meeting

26 Sep 2023

The first-ever head of state summit on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response took place in New York 20 September 2023 during the UN General Assembly. The aim was to strengthen political consensus on how to avoid repeating the devastating health and societal impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The outcome document of the meeting and the preceding negotiations, 2023 UN Political Declaration on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response, includes commitment from the 193 UN Member States to take measures to enhance the resilience of national health systems for pandemics, including by integrating disaster risk management into primary, secondary and tertiary health care.

ESMO has consistently called for the inclusion of secondary and tertiary care into international agreements and instruments on pandemics and emergencies, as it is at these levels that cancer patients are predominately treated. Given that an estimated one in five people will develop cancer at some point in their lives, that the frequency and severity of natural disasters and incidence of infectious diseases are anticipated to increase due to climate change, and the uncertainty of cancer care during conflicts and wars, this precision is crucial to not leave millions of patients behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for oncology professionals and patients, underlining that sustainable cancer care services must be integrated into preparedness and response to pandemics and crises. This should include secure adequate, continued and timely access to cancer and palliative care services and medicines, avoiding competition with resources required for health emergencies, and support for oncology workforce wellbeing.

The Political Declaration also pledges to take into account the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which stresses the importance of involving people with life threatening and chronic diseases in the design of policies and plans to manage their risks before, during and after disasters, including having access to lifesaving services.

The Political Declaration is an important milestone in the concurrent global health processes that include the negotiations for a Pandemic Accord and the amendments to the legally binding International Health Regulations expected to be adopted in May 2024 at the World Health Assembly. Ahead of these key events, ESMO will continue to contribute to the negotiations, enabled by its Official Relations Status with the WHO and its  Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

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