WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 22 May 2020
22 May 2020
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
This week was very productive week, with all Member States agreeing a landmark resolution on COVID-19, and today we held our Executive Board.
In particular, I want to congratulate Dr Harsh Vardhan, the India’s Minister of Health, for his appointment as chair of the Executive Board.
As the world passes 5 million recorded cases of COVID-19, we recognize the importance of building national unity and global solidarity to learn from each other and suppress the virus everywhere.
A key part of this week’s landmark resolution was that as well as fighting COVID-19, governments need to also ensure that essential health services are maintained.
When health systems are overwhelmed, deaths from outbreaks and from preventable and treatable conditions increase dramatically.
Maintaining people’s trust in the ability of health systems to provide essential services safely is crucial to ensure people continue to seek care when needed and follow public health advice.
WHO has previously released guidance for maintaining these services during an outbreak.
In this context, I would like to thank Novo Nordisk for its donation of insulin and glucagon, which will help to support treatment for people with diabetes in 50 low- and middle-income countries.
This is the first donation in WHO’s history of a medicine for a noncommunicable disease, and comes at a critical point.
People with diabetes are vulnerable to developing severe disease from COVID-19 and struggle with the day-to-day problems of disrupted access to medication, equipment and health care.
Initiatives to secure the supply of essential diabetes medicines are very welcome and reinforce the multiple ways that the private sector can get involved in fostering global solidarity.
One of the most essential services that has been disrupted is routine childhood immunisation.
Today, WHO is publishing new guidance on implementing mass vaccination campaigns in the context of COVID-19.
WHO, Unicef and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and other partners are working to ensure that the pandemic does not reverse decades of progress against vaccine preventable childhood diseases.
Today, I am pleased to be joined by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI.
Since the turn of the century, child mortality has been halved, in large part because of the power of safe and effective vaccination.
However, we’re here today to collectively reinforce the warning that COVID-19 threatens to undermine life-saving immunization services around the world.
This risks putting tens of millions of children – in rich and poor countries – at risk of killer diseases like diphtheria, measles and pneumonia.
As the world comes together to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, we must not forget the dozens of lifesaving vaccines that already exist and must continue to reach children everywhere.
Initial analysis suggests the provision of routine immunization services is substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of 1 living in these countries.
Any suspension of childhood vaccination services is a major threat to life.
WHO is working with governments around the world to ensure supply chains remain open and lifesaving health services are reaching all communities.
The epidemic of misinformation has also harmed vaccination in recent years and we call on everyone to do more to prevent rumours and pseudo-science from undermining public health efforts that save millions of lives.
In June, the UK Government will host the Global Vaccine Summit and we ask world leaders to commit to fully funding Gavi for its lifesaving work.
WHO and Unicef have been working closely from the start of this outbreak to ensure essential supplies are reaching health workers, patients and children across the world.
I now would like to turn to my sister Henrietta Fore to say a few words. Henrietta, you have the floor.
Thank you Henrietta, and I now want to turn to Seth. Seth you have the floor.
Thank you Seth and again Henrietta for joining us today and I now want to open the floor for questions from journalists around the world.