October 25, 2021

WHO Director−General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID−19 − 10 September 2020

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  • No disease in history has seen such rapid development in research. The world’s ambition to develop these tools as fast as possible must be matched by its ambition to ensure as many people as possible have access to them. 
  • The ACT Accelerator will not be able to deliver on its goals without a significant increase in funding; it still faces a funding gap of 35 billion US dollars.
  • Today, the Facilitation Council of the ACT Accelerator met for the first time to provide political leadership and advocacy, and to mobilize additional resources.
  • An ACT Accelerator high-level event at the United Nations General Assembly will take place on 30 September.
  • Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Every 40 seconds, someone somewhere dies by suicide. Like ending the pandemic, the key to preventing suicide is solidarity.

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, accelerating the development of and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19 has been a priority for WHO.

Already, we have made remarkable progress.

In January, within two weeks of the first cases being reported to WHO, we published the first protocol for PCR testing for the new coronavirus.

Since then, millions of tests have been produced, and already rapid tests are now starting to be used.

In February, WHO brought together hundreds of scientists and researchers to identify research priorities.

In March, we launched the Solidarity Trial, to find answers fast about which therapeutics are the most effective.

One therapeutic – dexamethasone – has already been proven effective for patients with severe and critical disease, others have been proven ineffective and still others are in trials.

And around 180 vaccines are now in development, including 35 that are in human trials.

No disease in history has seen such rapid development in research. It is a testament to the incredible advances in science and technology the world has made in recent years.

Now, the world’s ambition to develop these tools as fast as possible must be matched by its ambition to ensure as many people as possible have access to them.

In April, together with the European Commission and multiple other partners, WHO launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, to catalyse the development of and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

But the ACT Accelerator will not be able to deliver on its goals without a significant increase in funding.

The 2.7 billion US dollars it has received to date has been generous and has enabled the robust start-up phase.

But this is less than 10 percent of the overall needs.

The ACT Accelerator still faces a funding gap of 35 billion US dollars.

At the same time, bilateral vaccine deals and vaccine nationalism could compromise equitable access and hold up progress for all countries in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.

Between now and the end of the year we have a limited window of opportunity to scale-up the ACT Accelerator and fully enable the equitable allocation framework.

Currently, the ACT Accelerator is supporting research into promising vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

But we need to rapidly scale up our clinical trials, manufacturing, licensing and regulation capacity so that these products can get to people and start saving lives.

Today, the Facilitation Council of the ACT Accelerator met for the first time.

The role of the Council is to provide political leadership and advocacy, and to mobilize additional resources.

An ACT Accelerator high-level event at the United Nations General Assembly will take place on 30 September 2020.

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Finally, today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Every 40 seconds, someone somewhere dies by suicide.

Every single death is a tragedy, for the family and friends who have lost someone they love, and for whole communities.

Suicide affects people all over the world, regardless of gender, age or economic status.

Tragically, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year-olds.

There is much that can be done to bring down suicide rates.

At the national level, every country must have a comprehensive multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategy.

We know what works:

restricting access to the means of suicide, including pesticides and firearms;

building life skills among young people that enable them to cope with stresses in their life;

early identification, management and follow-up of people at risk of suicide;

and you in the media can play your part, by reporting sensitively on suicide.

At the individual level, there are three things each of us can do:

raise awareness to reduce the stigma around suicide and mental health;

if you know someone who you think may be thinking about suicide, offer them your help;

and if life ever feels so hard that you don’t know how you can go on, I encourage you to reach out for help.

Like ending the pandemic, the key to preventing suicide is solidarity.

I thank you.

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