Mar. 17, 2022

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the WHO press conference – 16 March 2022 16 March 2022.


Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

After several weeks of declines, reported cases of COVID-19 are once again increasing globally, especially in parts of Asia.

These increases are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, which means the cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg.

And we know that when cases increase, so do deaths.

Continued local outbreaks and surges are to be expected, particularly in areas where measures to prevent transmission have been lifted.

However, there are unacceptably high levels of mortality in many countries, especially where vaccination levels are low among susceptible populations.

Each country is facing a different situation with different challenges, but the pandemic is not over.

We call on all countries to remain vigilant. Continue to vaccinate, test, sequence, provide early care for patients, and apply common-sense public health measures to protect health workers and the public.

We continue to call on everyone to be vaccinated, where vaccines are available.

And we continue to work night and day to expand access to vaccines everywhere.

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Now, to Ukraine.

WHO’s priority remains to support health workers and the health system to continue to provide care to meet immediate health needs.

We have now established supply lines to many cities of Ukraine, but challenges with access remain.

So far, we have sent about 100 metric tonnes of supplies, including oxygen, insulin, surgical supplies, anaesthetics, and blood transfusion kits.

Other equipment, including oxygen generators, electrical generators, defibrillators and more have also been delivered, and we are preparing to send a further 108 metric tonnes.

We are coordinating the deployment of 20 Emergency Medical Teams of experts from many countries, pending a formal request for assistance from Ukraine’s Ministry of Health.

And we have opened a field office in Poland to support our operations in Ukraine, and to coordinate the response to the health needs of refugees.

But we are facing financial constraints in our ability to deliver the support needed.

So far, WHO has received just 8 million US dollars of our appeal for 57.5 million dollars.

Huge amounts of money are being spent on weapons. We ask donors to invest in ensuring that civilians in Ukraine and refugees receive the care they need.

And we continue to call for attacks on health care to stop.

More than 300 health facilities are along conflict lines or in areas that Russia now controls, and a further 600 facilities are within 10 kilometres of the conflict line.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, WHO has verified 43 attacks on health care.

WHO condemns all attacks on health care, wherever they occur.

Tragically, Ukraine is not the only place where patients, health workers, facilities, infrastructure and supply are under attack.

2022 is only 75 days old, but already WHO has verified 89 attacks on health care around the world, in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Nigeria, the occupied Palestinian territory, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, and of course, Ukraine.

Altogether, these attacks have injured 53 people and killed 35, including health workers.

That includes 8 polio health workers who were killed in Afghanistan last month.

Attacks on health care not only endanger lives, they deprive people of urgently-needed care and break already-strained health systems.

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Although Ukraine is the focus of the world’s attention, it is far from the only crisis to which WHO is responding.

In Yemen, roughly two-thirds of the population, more than twenty million people, are estimated to be in need of health assistance.

In Afghanistan, more than half the population is in need, with widespread malnutrition and a surge in measles, among many other challenges.

And in Ethiopia, 6 million people in Tigray have been under blockade by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces for almost 500 days, sealed off from the outside world.

There is almost no fuel, no cash, and no communications.

No food aid has been delivered since the middle of December.

83% of the population is food insecure. Our partners are running out of what little food they have, and the fuel to transport it.

About three-quarters of health facilities assessed by WHO have been damaged or destroyed.

In February, WHO airlifted more than 33 metric tonnes of medicines and other supplies to Tigray – enough for 300 thousand people – the first time we have been able to deliver supplies since July last year.

In the past two weeks, WHO and our partners have distributed supplies to 65 health facilities in Tigray, but much more is needed, and we are now preparing to send an additional 95 metric tonnes of supplies, but no permission has been given yet.

We estimate that 2,200 metric tons of emergency health supplies are needed to respond to urgent health needs in Tigray. Only 117 metric tons have been delivered – less than 1% of what is needed.

But with no fuel, even if we can get supplies in, getting them to where they need to go is very difficult, or impossible.

The humanitarian situation in the neighbouring Afar region also continues to deteriorate, with tens of thousands of people displaced and in need of food, shelter and health services.

But while the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara are also affected, we have had far better access to those two regions than we have in Tigray.

What’s the impact of all this? People are dying.

There is no treatment for forty-six thousand people who need treatment for HIV, and the programme has been abandoned. People with tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes and cancer are also not being treated, and may have died.

As a result of the lack of fuel, some of our partners are having to scale back their operations.

The situation is catastrophic.

The blockade on communications, including on journalists being able to report from Tigray, means it remains a forgotten crisis – out of sight, and out of mind.

Yes, I am from Tigray, and this crisis affects me, my family and my friends very personally.

But as the Director-General of WHO, I have a duty to protect and promote health wherever it is under threat, and there is nowhere on earth where the health of millions of people is more under threat than in Tigray.

Just as we continue to call on Russia to make peace in Ukraine, so we continue to call on Ethiopia and Eritrea to end the blockade – the siege – and allow safe access for humanitarian supplies and workers to save lives.

Peace is the only solution – in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.