WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 18 August 2020
18 August 2020
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening.
I want to start by paying tribute to Professor Peter Byass who passed away suddenly on Sunday.
Peter was the former Director of the Centre for Global Health Research at Umea University in Sweden and the Chief Editor of Global Health Action.
He was a committed and talented servant of global health who helped many people shine around the world.
He was also my dear friend and mentor.
I have worked with him, learned from him and laughed with him.
He’ll be much missed.
My thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time.
Our last media briefing focused on the world’s progress in developing new diagnostic tests, therapeutics and vaccines.
Today, I’m going to outline some of the key logistical hurdles we’ve faced in the last eight months, shipping lifesaving medical equipment around the world.
The lessons learned from the distribution of these supplies will be important as we look to ensure that our supply chains and systems are honed for future breakthroughs from the ACT-Accelerator.
Learning from past experience and challenges is key to improving the current pandemic response to this and future outbreaks.
Every new disease outbreak presents new challenges but from a logistics perspective, COVID-19 has been one of the toughest challenges we’ve ever faced.
Because this respiratory disease passes relatively easily between people, when this outbreak started there was an urgent need to get advice, information, training and equipment to frontline workers.
On the fifth of January, days after a cluster of unknown pneumonia was identified in Wuhan, China; WHO shared detailed information on the cases with the world and advised all countries and emergency contact points to take precautions to reduce the risk of severe acute respiratory infections.
Between the tenth and twelfth of January, WHO published a package of guidance documents for countries.
This covered topics related to the management of an outbreak of a new disease – including finding and testing for the disease, caring for patients and infection prevention and control measures to protect health care workers.
By the second week of January, China had mapped the genome and shared it with WHO and the wider world.
We rapidly published a “how to” on building a PCR test for COVID-19 from our partner lab in Germany.
In the third week, WHO identified and began contracting for validated production of these tests.
By the first week of February, we began shipping tests to over 150 labs around the world, which enabled the countries to quickly identify, track and trace the virus.
As this was happening, and outbreaks started to spread in other countries, there was a huge surge in demand for personal protective equipment, such as medical masks, gowns, gloves and face protection.
Manufacturers in several key countries were under so-called lockdown and there was a collapse in air transport, which is imperative for sending supplies around the world.
Some countries put in place export restrictions and there were several instances of requisitioning key medical supplies for national use.
Supply nationalism exacerbated the pandemic and contributed to the total failure of the global supply chain.
For a period of time, some countries were without key supplies, such as key items for health workers who were dealing with surging cases of COVID-19.
And many countries still do not have enough.
To boost manufacturing and ensure that supply chains began to function, early on in the outbreak WHO convened regular meetings with key companies and industry groups.
WHO worked closely with the World Food Programme and quickly utilised nine new and existing logistics hubs to establish a solid supply chain to deliver lifesaving PPE and medical supplies around the world.
WHO worked with partners like UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation to purchase and deliver hundreds of millions of pieces of protective equipment for health workers.
The Partners Platform, created at the end of January, has become a critical tool to help countries highlight financial, supply and personnel needs and deliver the necessary public health response.
WHO worked to unblock bottlenecks by working with public and private partners to increase supplies within the market.
So, what are the lessons?
While there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective.
This is not charity, we have learned the hard way that the fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries.
Sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is actually in each country's national interest.
No one is safe until everyone is safe.
No one country has access to research and development, manufacturing and all the supply chain for all essential medicines and materials.
And if we can work together, we can ensure that all essential workers are protected and proven treatments like dexamethasone are available to those who need them.
With PPE and tests, a collaboration between the public and private sectors meant supply was increased in order to support fair and equitable use of scarce products.
As new diagnostics, medicines and vaccines come through the pipeline, it’s critical that countries don't repeat the same mistakes.
We need to prevent vaccine nationalism.
And for this reason, WHO is working with governments and the private sector to both accelerate the science, through the ACT-Accelerator, and ensure that new innovations are available to everyone, everywhere starting with those at highest risk.
Since May, WHO has been in extensive consultations to develop a new framework to guide fair and equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, for COVID-19 across all countries.
These cross-cutting principles are key to the promotion of equitable access and fair allocation of these essential health products for the greatest impact globally.
For example, once a successful vaccine has been identified WHO’s strategic advisory group will provide recommendations for their appropriate and fair use.
The allocation of vaccines is proposed to be rolled out in two phases.
In phase 1, doses will be allocated proportionally to all participating countries simultaneously to reduce overall risk.
In phase 2, consideration will be given to countries’ in relation to threat and vulnerability.
Front line workers in health and social care settings are prioritised as they are essential to treat and protect the population and come in close contact with high-mortality risk groups.
Initial data has shown that adults over 65 years old and those with certain comorbidities are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19.
For most countries, a phase 1 allocation that builds up to 20 percent of the population would cover most of the at-risk groups.
If we don't protect these highest risk people from the virus everywhere and at the same time, we can't stabilise health systems and rebuild the global economy.
This is what the first crucial phase of the vaccine allocation mechanism aims to do.
We are all so interconnected.
As a small example, vaccine developed in one country may need to be filled in vials with stoppers that are produced in another, using materials for the high-grade glass that is only available from yet another country.
We will need to quickly manufacture billions of doses to reach all those who need the vaccine, which means hundreds of millions of glass vials and ways to transport them effectively.
All this means, elite planning at the highest levels is needed right now to prepare to vaccinate and treat the world as new technologies come down the pipeline.
As we accelerate the science, solidarity is needed to provide a joint solution to the pandemic.
The COVAX Global Vaccines Facility is the critical mechanism for joint procurement and pooling risk across multiple vaccines, which is why today I sent a letter to every Member State encouraging them to join.
Like an orchestra, we need all instruments to be played in harmony to create music that everyone enjoys.
One or two instruments playing by themselves just won’t suffice when the world is waiting and listening intently.
We will work to bring the band together, to promote science, solutions and solidarity because we believe to our core that we do it best, when we do it together.
I thank you.