Aug. 19, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 18 August 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 18 August 2021
18 August 2021
In Haiti, where the earthquake has killed more than 1,900 people, we are continuing to support the government and the people by all means possible during this difficult moment.
The people of Afghanistan are facing an enormous challenge. We are particularly concerned about the health and wellbeing of women and girls. Our staff remain in the country and committed to delivering health services to the most vulnerable.
This week, a new case of Ebola was identified in Côte d’Ivoire. Thousands of doses of Ebola vaccines were sent from Guinea to Cote d’Ivoire and ring vaccination of high-risk contacts has started.
Just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all vaccine supply and low-income countries have vaccinated barely 2 per cent of their people. I called for a temporary moratorium on boosters to help shift supply to those countries that that have not even been able to vaccinate their health workers and at-risk communities and are now experiencing major spikes.
Vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity and if we don’t tackle it together, we will prolong the acute stage of this pandemic for years when it could be over in a matter of months. When G20 health ministers meet on the 5th and 6th of September in Rome, I will call on them to consider the fragility of this historic moment and make a clear defining commitment to solidarity.
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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

I want to start by paying tribute to Dr. Ousmane Touré, a brilliant epidemiologist from Guinea, who on deployment to Haiti tragically died in the earthquake that hit the country on Saturday morning.
Dr. Touré was a hard working, dedicated and much loved team member that worked around the clock to help communities beat Ebola in both West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

At just 39, with a wife and two beautiful daughters, aged just four and one, his death is a heartbreaking reminder of the danger many WHO staff put themselves in working on the frontlines of health and humanitarian responses.

I want to send my condolences to his family and friends and also Guinea at this impossibly difficult time.

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In Haiti, so far we know that the earthquake has killed more than 1,900 people, left thousands more injured and homeless, and impacted more than two million people.

To compound the situation, tropical storm Grace caused heavy rain and flooding to the country.

Our colleagues at PAHO have helped send emergency medical teams and supplies.

They have also been on the ground supporting the authorities with an assessment of the damage to health facilities.

Four have been destroyed and a further twenty damaged.

Urgent needs include medical personnel, health tools and logistical support for the delivery of supplies, deployment of people and transfer of patients.

We are continuing to support the government and people of Haiti by all means possible during this difficult moment.

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The people of Afghanistan are also facing an enormous challenge.

In the midst of a pandemic, we’re extremely concerned by the large displacement of people and increasing cases of diarrhoea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, probable cases of COVID-19 and reproductive health complications.

There is an immediate need to ensure sustained humanitarian access, and continuity of health services across the country, with a focus on ensuring women and girls have access to female health workers.

We are particularly concerned about the health and wellbeing of women and girls.

I call on the international community and all actors to prioritise their access to all health services and to safeguard their futures.

We cannot backslide on two decades of progress.

Our staff remain in the country and committed to delivering health services to the most vulnerable.

Yesterday, WHO dispatched trauma kits and other medical supplies to help health workers responding to the increases in injuries they’re seeing.

I also spoke to the acting Health Minister, Dr. Wahid Majrooh.

He is in Kabul working to avoid disruptions and keep essential health services moving.

And I thanked him for staying in the country to support those in need.

I reassured him that WHO and staff will continue to support the country.

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With World Humanitarian Day tomorrow, I can honestly say that I have never seen so many emergencies happening simultaneously.

This moment in history is one of extreme fragility.

Member States tempted to slip into isolation would do better engaging with one another.

The humanitarian system is being pushed to its absolute limit - and beyond - by the climate crisis, natural disasters, conflict and the pandemic.

As urban areas expand, humans and animals are living in ever-closer proximity and we are seeing increasing numbers of spill over events.

Two weeks ago, we notified the world of a case of Marburg in Guinea.

This week, a new case of Ebola was identified in Côte d’Ivoire, marking the third outbreak of Ebola this year.

The patient confirmed with the Ebola virus had travelled to Abidjan by road from Guinea, putting both countries on an emergency footing.

Thousands of doses of Ebola vaccines were sent from Guinea to Cote d’Ivoire and ring vaccination of high-risk contacts has started.

We will continue to do our best and WHO deployed experts to join their country-based counterparts to support the Ministry of Health to ramp up infection prevention and control, diagnostics, contact tracing, treatment, community mobilization and cross-border surveillance.

Guinea also deployed ring vaccination experts and provided along with partners shared monoclonal antibody treatments to Cote d’Ivoire.

Solidarity and leadership of this sort is the best weapon against a dangerous virus that doesn’t respect borders.

Effective early treatment and supportive care can significantly improve the chances of surviving Ebola and ring vaccination can help stop an outbreak in its tracks.

This level of solidarity would be useful in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Last year, around this time, WHO warned about vaccine nationalism and how it would only prolong the pandemic.
For the past year we have called on countries to share doses and scale up manufacturing equitably.

Some countries are now sharing doses. The largest is the US, which we appreciate and encourage others to follow by sharing more doses faster.

Delta continues to outpace our collective response, and within each country, hot spots of hospitalisation and death are where there are low levels of vaccination and limited public health measures.

We do have solutions to the challenges of Delta and current variants.

This is why the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan urgently needs an additional $1 billion US dollars.

And in addition, under a multiagency funding ask, the ACT-Accelerator launched a $7.7 billion US dollar appeal.

The aim is to rapidly scale up testing, oxygen supplies, treatments, vaccines, protective equipment for health workers and enhance research and development into the next generation of health tools.

At present, just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all vaccine supply and low-income countries have vaccinated barely 2 per cent of their people.

I called for a temporary moratorium on boosters to help shift supply to those countries that that have not even been able to vaccinate their health workers and at-risk communities and are now experiencing major spikes.

Last week, WHO brought together 2,000 experts from all around the world and debated the available data on boosters.

What is clear is that it’s critical to get first shots into arms and protect the most vulnerable before boosters are rolled out.

The divide between the haves and have nots will only grow larger if manufacturers and leaders prioritise booster shots over supply to low- and middle-income countries.

The virus is evolving and it is not in the best interests of leaders just to focus on narrow nationalistic goals when we live in an interconnected world and the virus is mutating quickly.

In fact, strong national leadership would be to fully commit to vaccine equity and global solidarity, which would save lives and slow variants down.

In this context, I was stunned by the news that J&J vaccines fill and finished in South Africa are leaving the continent and going to Europe, where virtually all adults have been offered vaccines at this point.

We urge J&J to urgently prioritize distribution of their vaccines to Africa before considering supplies to rich countries that already have sufficient access.

Furthermore, following WHO recommendations regarding the use of IL6 blockers, that showed a reduction in death amongst patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19, our current challenge is again limited supply.

We call for equitable allocation and for Roche – the drug maker – to share technology and know-how.

To overcome these fragile times we must do better at sharing resources and health tools.

Our mutual resilience is only as strong as our weakest bond.

Vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity and if we don’t tackle it together, we will prolong the acute stage of this pandemic for years when it could be over in a matter of months.

When G20 health ministers meet on the 5th and 6th of September in Rome, I will call on them to consider the fragility of this historic moment and make a clear defining commitment to solidarity.

From identifying the origins to sharing vaccines fairly, to building resilient societies that are prepared for climatic shocks and future disease outbreaks.

This is our great calling and I urge leaders to come together and match it.

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Whether it’s pandemic response, new disease outbreaks of Marburg or Ebola, civil unrest, an earthquake in Haiti, or responding to the effects of the climate crisis; WHO will always be there working to save lives, strengthen science, find solutions and build solidarity.