2022 began with the largest global surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, spurred by the spread of the Omicron variant. Despite rising cases as we head toward the end of the calendar year, the aperture of focus in global health has widened beyond COVID-19, to enhancing the resilience of health systems to restore progress on the health-related Sustainable Development Goals and mitigate the effects of future pandemic threats. Will 2023 bring new global health progress, or will the world recede further in delivering the promise of Health for All?

Last fall the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 was on its way to dominating the trajectory of the pandemic. Although COVID-19 vaccines had been widely available in high-income countries since mid-2021, the vast inequality of vaccine access was highly problematic. For instance, less than 10% of health care workers in Africa were vaccinated by the start of 2022. While COVAX — the UN-led global partnership to accelerate equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines — helped bend the curve and ensure that over 68% of the world population received a vaccine by December 2022, it was not enough. Only a quarter of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and lives were needlessly lost. That prompted many people to decry the dissonance between political leaders’ rhetoric and their decisions, and many, especially populations in lower-income countries, to feel disillusioned about a level playing field.

Global solidarity was challenged in several other ways this year, including by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the food, fuel, and increasing fiscal crises it spawned. Although COVID-19 cases declined through much of 2022, due to combined natural and vaccine-induced immunity, cases once again peaked in November in Australia, China, France, the United States, and elsewhere. By the end of this year, political attention and resources to stop the disease, which has now killed more than 6.6 million people worldwide, have waned considerably. Epidemiologists and others are watching China carefully as it lifts its longstanding “zero-COVID” strategy, which holds unknown risks for potential future epidemiological shifts for the rest of the world.

Read the full article about global health progress by Kate Dodson at United Nations Foundation.