Pope meets with head of World Health Organization

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Containment of the COVID-19 outbreak had been a major focal point of WHO, the health agency of the United Nations, over the past three years. Under Ghebreyesus’ leadership, WHO secured 2 billion vaccine doses for distribution in 2021. The WHO director also said in May 2022 that the “zero-COVID” strategy, which involves significant government intervention to stop the spread of the virus, was no longer suitable and declared in May 2023 that COVID-19 was no longer a public health emergency.

The Holy See donated to WHO’s emergency fund for medics on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020.

Under Ghebreyesus, WHO has been criticized by Catholic organizations and others for issuing abortion guidance that implies conscience objections are “indefensible.” The organization also changed its description of transgenderism in 2018, no longer classifying the experience of believing one’s gender identity is incongruent with one’s actual biological sex as a mental health disorder, a move that followed the lead of a similar shift made by the American Psychiatric Association six years earlier.

Ghebreyesus, who had previously served as both the head of health and foreign relations in Ethiopia, was elected to his current post with the backing of the African Union and has prioritized universal health coverage and addressing viral outbreaks during his six-year tenure.

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