WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 8 April 2020
8 April 2020
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
Tomorrow marks 100 days since WHO was notified of the first cases of “pneumonia with unknown cause” in China.
It’s incredible to reflect on how dramatically the world has changed, in such a short period of time.
Today I’d like to give an overview of what WHO has done in the past 100 days, and what we will be doing in the near future to alleviate suffering and save lives.
On the 1st of January, just hours after we were notified of the first cases, WHO activated its Incident Management Support Team, to coordinate our response at headquarters, regional and country level.
On the 5th of January, WHO officially notified all Member States of this new outbreak, and published a disease outbreak news on our website.
On the 10th of January, we issued a comprehensive package of guidance to countries on how to detect, test and manage potential cases, and protect health workers.
On the same day, we convened our strategic and technical advisory group on infectious hazards to review the situation.
We have been engaging with journalists since the beginning, responding to media enquiries around the clock.
We convened the emergency committee on the 22nd of January, and again a week later, after the first cases of human-to-human transmission were reported outside China, and declared a public health emergency of international concern – our highest level of alarm. At the time there were 98 cases outside China, and no deaths.
In February an international team of experts from Canada, China, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, Singapore and the United States of America visited affected provinces in China to learn more about the virus, the outbreak and the response, and to glean lessons for the rest of the world.
In early February the United Nations Crisis Management Team was activated, to coordinate the entire machinery the UN to support countries as effectively as possible.
Since then, we have been working day and night in five key areas.
First, we’ve worked to support countries in building their capacity to prepare and respond.
Through WHO’s network of 6 regional offices and 150 country offices, we’ve worked closely with governments around the world to prepare their health systems for COVID-19, and to respond when cases arrive.
We issued a Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, which identified the major actions countries need to take, and the resources needed to carry them out.
Governments and partners rose to the challenge. More than US$800 million has been pledged or received for the response.
That includes more than US$140 million from more than 229,000 individuals and organizations raised through the Solidarity Response Fund, exceeding all our expectations, and showing true global solidarity.
I’d like to thank all donors for their support, including Apple for its contribution of US$10 million.
To ensure this money is used where it’s needed most, we’ve set up an online portal, to help partners match needs with funds.
Second, we’ve worked with numerous partners to provide accurate information and fight the infodemic.
We’ve published 50 pieces of technical guidance for the public, health workers and countries, providing evidence-based advice on every element of the response.
We activated our global expert networks to tap the world’s leading epidemiologists, clinicians, social-scientists, statisticians, virologists, risk communicators and others, to make our response truly global and capture all the support we need from all over the world, from WHO experts and other experts in many other institutions globally.
Our EPI-WIN team has adapted our advice for individuals and communities, health workers, employers and workers, faith-based organizations and more about how to protect themselves and others.
Through our daily situation reports and these regular press briefings, we have kept the world informed about the latest data, information and evidence.
We have held regular briefings with our Member States, to answer their questions, and learn from their experiences.
We have worked with numerous media and tech companies including Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Messenger, Pinterest, SnapChat, Tencent, TikTok, Twitter, Viber, WhatsApp, YouTube and more to counter myths and misinformation with reliable, evidence-based advice.
The WhatsApp chatbot now has more than 12 million followers and is available in 7 languages, including Hindi and Portuguese, which are launching today. The Viber chatbot has more than 2 million followers, in three languages and four more to launch next week, reaching out to the citizens of the world, the person in the street, informing them with the latest information we have.
Just in the past two days we convened an online workshop to crowdsource ideas from over 600 experts, institutions and individuals on ways to combat the infodemic.
We have worked with FIFA and some of the world’s biggest sports stars to promote clean hands and physical activity.
And since we announced the One World: Together at Home concert with Lady Gaga and Global Citizen on Monday, more TV networks and online platforms from around the world have contacted us offering to broadcast the concert. Lady Gaga has informed us she has already raised US$35 million.
Third, we’re working hard to ensure supplies of essential medical equipment for frontline health workers.
So far, we’ve shipped more than 2 million items of personal protective equipment to 133 countries, and we’re preparing to ship another 2 million items in the coming weeks.
We’ve sent more than 1 million diagnostic tests to 126 countries, in all regions, and we’re sourcing more.
But we know much more is needed. This is not enough.
So we’re working with the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Economic Forum and others in the private sector to ramp up the production and distribution of essential medical supplies.
Today we are launching the UN COVID-19 Supply Chain Task Force, to dramatically scale up the supply of these life-saving tools, and match supply with needs. I would like to use this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for brining all UN agencies together to contribute to the Supply Chain Task Force.
Fourth, we’re working to train and mobilize health workers.
More than 1.2 million people have enrolled in 6 courses in 43 languages on our OpenWHO.org platform. Our target is to train tens of millions, and we have all the readiness to train tens of millions, hundreds of millions.
Experts have been deployed around the world through WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and our Emergency Medical Teams platform.
And fifth, we’ve accelerated research and development.
In February we brought more than 400 of the world’s leading researchers together to identify and accelerate research priorities.
We launched the Solidarity Trial, with more than 90 countries working together to find effective therapeutics as soon as possible.
To better understand the transmission, epidemiology and clinical features of the virus, we have developed research protocols that are being used in more than 40 countries, in a coordinated way.
We’re working with FIND to accelerate development and access to diagnostics.
Today, 130 scientists, funders and manufacturers from around the world have signed a statement committing to work with WHO to speed the development of a vaccine against COVID-19.
Of course, WHO is not alone. The UN is not alone. Every day, we work with thousands of partners in government, academia, the private sector, civil society and more.
There are many, many other things WHO has done in the past 100 days that I haven’t mentioned.
These five pillars will continue to be the foundation of our work.
In the coming days, WHO will be releasing an updated strategy, and a revised Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with an estimate of the financial needs for the next phase of the response.
Throughout, our focus has been on working with countries and with partners to bring the world together to confront this common threat together.
We are especially concerned with protecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, not just in the poorest countries, but in all countries.
For the past 100 days, our unwavering commitment has been to serve all people of the world with equity, objectivity and neutrality.
And that will continue to be our sole focus in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Finally, this is a special time of year for Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world.
Today WHO has published practical considerations and recommendations for faith-based communities.
We know that COVID-19 means billions of believers are not able to celebrate in the way they usually would.
But we wish everyone a safe and joyful Easter, Passover and Ramadan.