Aug. 25, 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 25 August 2021

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 25 August 2021
25 August 2021
After increasing for nearly two months, the global number of COVID-19 cases and deaths was stable last week. But it is stable at a very high level – more than 4.5 million cases and 68 thousand deaths.
The new Strategic Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO, will be composed of experts acting in their own capacity, not as representatives of Member States, and will play a vital role in studying the emergence of new pathogens, including the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.
Even as we continue our work to understand how this pandemic started, we are also moving ahead with plans to strengthen the world’s defences against future epidemics and pandemics.
Last month, the G20 High-Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response published its report, which was presented by His Excellency Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister of Singapore.
With the UN General Assembly in September, the G20 Summit in October and the Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November, the next three months will be a critical period for shaping the future of pandemic preparedness and response.
Another epidemic continues to kill millions of people every year - Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, and hypertension is one of its main risk factors. More than 1.2 billion people live with hypertension. Today, WHO launched a new guideline for the pharmacological treatment of hypertension in adults, which presents the most up-to-date evidence-based recommendations on managing hypertension.
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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

After increasing for nearly two months, the global number of COVID-19 cases and deaths was stable last week.

But it is stable at a very high level – more than 4.5 million cases and 68 thousand deaths.

However, the situation is very different from region to region, country to country, province to province and town to town.

Some regions and countries continue to see steep increases in cases and deaths, while others are declining.

As long as this virus is circulating anywhere, it’s a threat everywhere.

There are no shortcuts. WHO continues to recommend a comprehensive, risk-based approach of proven public health and social measures, in combination with equitable vaccination.

Even as we remain focused on ending the pandemic, WHO is moving forward with plans to understand its origins.

Last Friday, we issued an open call to scientists around the world to apply to the new Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO.

SAGO will be composed of experts acting in their own capacity, not as representatives of Member States, and will play a vital role in studying the emergence of new pathogens, including the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

We encourage all qualified professionals to apply. We need the best people to be part of this important new advisory group.

I wish to emphasise that SAGO will not delay the progress of the studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

The report of the international team published in March outlined a number of studies that can be taken forward without delay. We have encouraged all parties to pursue those studies.

Even as we continue our work to understand how this pandemic started, we are also moving ahead with plans to strengthen the world’s defences against future epidemics and pandemics.

As you know, there have been several reports with many recommendations for how to do this, including the report of the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the Review Committee of the International Health Regulations, the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, and others.

Most recently, the G20 established a High-Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

The panel published its report last month, and it’s now my great pleasure to welcome the Senior Minister of Singapore, His Excellency Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who co-chaired the panel and will present its recommendations. I just had an excellent meeting with the Senior Minister to discuss the report.

Thank you so much, Your Excellency, for your leadership. Welcome, and you have the floor.

[SENIOR MINISTER THARMAN ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Your Excellency, and my thanks to all of the members of the panel for their work.

This report has much in common with the other reports and recommendations that have been published in recent months.

They all recognize the need for better global governance of pandemic preparedness and response.

They all recognize the need for better systems and tools to prevent, prepare for, detect and respond rapidly to epidemics and pandemics.

They all recognize the need for better financing for global preparedness and response, including for global goods such as vaccines.

And they all recognize the need for a strengthened, empowered and sustainably financed WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.

With 194 Member States and 152 country offices, WHO has a unique global mandate, unique global reach and unique global legitimacy.

With the UN General Assembly in September, the G20 Summit in October and the Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November, the next three months will be a critical period for shaping the future of pandemic preparedness and response.

Whatever structures and mechanisms emerge, WHO believes they must be grounded in several core principles:

They must have the engagement and ownership of all countries;

They must be linked to and aligned with the constitutional mandate of WHO, rather than creating parallel structures, which could lead to further fragmentation of the global health architecture, as the Senior Minister said.

They must involve partners from across the One Health spectrum, including animal and environmental health, civil society and the private sector.

They must ensure coherence with the International Health Regulations and other international instruments;

And they must be accountable.

WHO is committed to working with all 194 of our Member States to build a global system to better protect all people in all countries.

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Finally, although the world’s attention is rightly focused on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, there is another epidemic that will continue to kill millions of people every year.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, and hypertension is one of its main risk factors.

More than 1.2 billion people live with hypertension.

I am one of them. But I am one of the lucky ones, with good access to medicines, understanding my condition and making sure it is controlled.

The same is not true for most others with hypertension.

A new study led by Imperial College London and WHO published today estimates that almost half of all people with hypertension don’t know they have it, and only 1 in 5 have it under control.

We have the tools to prevent, diagnose and manage hypertension. Our challenge is to make sure everyone with hypertension has access to those tools.

Today, WHO launched a new guideline for the pharmacological treatment of hypertension in adults, which presents the most up-to-date evidence-based recommendations on managing hypertension.

This new guideline provides recommendations on the level of blood pressure at which it is appropriate to start medication, what type of medicine or combination of medicines to use, what level of blood pressure to target, and how often follow-up checks are needed.

Pharmacological treatment should always be combined with healthier diets and regular physical activity; more strictly controlling tobacco products; and identifying and treating comorbidities such as diabetes and pre-existing heart disease.

Indeed, Singapore is a good example of a country that has taken concerted action to reduce hypertension and heart disease, with a bill that will ban the use of artificial trans-fats – a leading contributor to hypertension and heart disease – from its food supply by this year.

WHO’s new guideline is another example of our commitment to our mission to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.