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WHO’s Response to COVID-19: 2021 Annual Report

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About this report

The first COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) was developed by WHO in February 2020 to help guide the public health response to COVID-19 at national and subnational levels and outline global strategic priorities in support of the effort. With an overall goal of ending the acute phase of the pandemic and building resilience and readiness for the future, it defined key strategic public health objectives, interventions, and required capacities to break the transmission cycle.

The SPRP was updated in early 2021 to better align with increasing knowledge of the virus and in response to the development of effective tools – particularly focussing on vaccination as a core aspect of the global response.

This report, the fourth of its kind, provides a consolidated update on WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, against the objectives laid out in the updated SPRP. It highlights key actions taken by WHO to detect and reduce transmission, protect the vulnerable, and save lives – particularly among fragile and conflict-affected population groups. Considering the pillars of the COVID-19 response as outlined in the SPRP, activities in the report are reviewed according to four broad strategic priorities:

  1. Detecting transmission through strengthened outbreak surveillance systems, robust early warning systems, and shared global knowledge.
  2. Reducing exposure and transmission by supporting empowered, engaged, and enabled communities as partners in implementing public health and social measures.
  3. Protecting the vulnerable by ensuring equitable access to tests, treatments, and essential supplies, and critically – vaccines.
  4. Reducing morbidity and mortality from all causes through building resilient health systems that can prepare for, manage, and adapt to shocks.

The report highlights the role of WHO at the global, regional, and local levels, and across the key elements of an effective emergency response – from implementation and operational support, to developing evidence and research, and providing strong coordination and planning. As a technical organization with global convening power, WHO has access to expert networks, collaborating centres, and research and innovation platforms. By working with partners, including UN agency offices around the world, multi-agency and multi-partner operational platforms, regional and national public health and scientific institutes, governments, communities, donors, and the private sector, WHO helped bring the world together to provide direct technical and operational support to countries implementing their national COVID-19 response plans.

While the activities described on the following pages were chosen to highlight the role of WHO – coordination, solidarity and partnership remain critical. From the outset of the pandemic, WHO has worked to bring all stakeholders together. WHO plays a key leadership role in several coordination mechanisms – including the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) partnership. Developed in 2020 as a global collaboration, ACT-A was designed to rapidly leverage existing global public health infrastructure and expertise, and to accelerate the development and production of critical COVID-19 tools – tests, treatments, vaccines, and essential supplies. WHO is at the centre of the ACT-A partnership, with its core mission of delivering equitable access to COVID-19 tools.