Jul. 7, 2020

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 7 July 2020

7 July 2020
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

It took 12 weeks for the world to reach 400 thousand cases of COVID-19.

Over the weekend, there were more than 400 thousand cases across the globe.

There have now been 11.4 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 535,000 lives have been lost.

The outbreak is accelerating and we have clearly not reached the peak of the pandemic.

While the number of deaths appears to have levelled off globally, in reality some countries have made significant progress in reducing the number of deaths, while in other countries deaths are still on the rise.

Where there has been progress in reducing deaths, countries have implemented targeted actions toward the most vulnerable groups, for example those people living in long-term care facilities.

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Over the past few months, there has been a lot of discussion about the origins of COVID-19.

All preparations have been finalised and WHO experts will be traveling to China this weekend to prepare scientific plans with their Chinese counterparts for identifying the zoonotic source of the disease.

The experts will develop the scope and terms of reference for a WHO-led international mission.

The mission objective is to advance the understanding of animal hosts for COVID-19 and ascertain how the disease jumped between animals and humans.

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WHO will continue to communicate the latest scientific advances to the media and general public as we have them.

In this vein, WHO continues to work with technology companies to make sure people have access to accurate health information and resources on COVID-19.

Today, I am pleased to announce that we have partnered with Facebook and Praekelt.org to provide WHO’s COVID-19 information in Free Basics and Discover, in a mobile-friendly format.

Through this collaboration, we will reach some of the most vulnerable people who will be able to access lifesaving health information without any data charges in more than 50 countries.

We have launched this product in English.

French, Spanish and Arabic and other languages will follow in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, I want to thank Google for its continued support and dedication to keep the global community safe and informed and for its recently increased ad grant to WHO.

This support enables us to catch trending falsehoods early, respond to them quickly, and give people better access to lifesaving information when they need it most, wherever they are in the world.

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This pandemic has shown the importance of being able to see each other online while being physically apart.

And 20 years on from the Durban AIDS Conference, a game changing moment in the fight against HIV; leaders, policy makers, scientists, activists and civil society are assembling virtually this week for AIDS 2020.

WHO is deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the global response to HIV.

A new WHO survey showed access to HIV medicines has been significantly curtailed as a result of the pandemic.

73 countries have reported that they are at risk of stock-outs of antiretroviral medicines (ARVs).

To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on treatment access, WHO recommends all countries prescribe ARVs for longer periods of time.

Up to six months while supply chains for all medicines are fully functioning.

Similarly, shortages of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis can prove costly and WHO calls for countries to ensure uninterrupted prevention, testing and treatment services for HIV.

The disruptions in access to life-saving commodities and services come at a critical moment as progress in the global response to HIV stalls.

Over the last two years, numbers of new HIV infections stabilised at 1.7 million annually and there was only a modest reduction in AIDS-related deaths.

More than 25 million people now have access to ARVs but global targets for prevention, testing and treatment are off target.

Progress is stalling because HIV prevention and testing services are not reaching the groups that need them most.

And the lack of optimal HIV medicines with suitable pediatric formulations has been a longstanding barrier to improving health outcomes for children living with HIV.

Going forward, access to services for vulnerable groups must be expanded through stronger community engagement, improved service delivery and tackling stigma and discrimination.

Twenty years ago, Nelson Mandela closed the AIDS conference by saying:

“This is, as I understand it, a gathering of human beings concerned about turning around one of the greatest threats humankind has faced.”

Those words from Madiba echoed through a generation of activists and policy makers alike and I say them today as a message to the world.

More than six months in, the case for national unity and global solidarity is undeniable.

To beat the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that essential health services for diseases like HIV continue; we cannot afford any divisions.

I will say it again. National unity and global solidarity are more important than ever to defeat a common enemy, a virus that has taken the world hostage.

This is our only road out of this pandemic. I repeat national unity and global solidarity.

I thank you.

Jul. 7, 2020