June 25, 2022

WHO Director−General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on Ukraine, COVID−19 and other global health issues – 2 March 2022

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WHO

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

WHO is deeply concerned about the unfolding humanitarian emergency in Ukraine.

WHO is on the ground, working with our partners to respond, to assess the impact of the conflict on the health of Ukraine’s people and its health system, and to deliver essential medical supplies from our hub in Dubai.

The first shipment will arrive in Poland tomorrow, including 36 metric tonnes of supplies for trauma care and emergency surgery to meet the needs of 1,000 patients, and other health supplies to meet the needs of 150,000 people.

Prior to the conflict, WHO distributed emergency supplies to 23 hospitals, although our prepositioned supplies in Kyiv are currently inaccessible.

There is an urgent need to establish a corridor to ensure humanitarian workers and supplies have safe and continuous access to reach people in need.

To support our response, WHO has so far released US$5.2 million US dollars from our Contingency Fund for Emergencies. Our needs for the next three months are US$45 million for Ukraine, and 12.5 million dollars to support neighbouring countries to care for refugees.

Anyone can contribute to support our response through the WHO Foundation appeal page, by going to www.who.foundation and clicking on “donate”.

We are also deeply concerned about reports of attacks on health facilities and health workers.

We have received several unconfirmed reports of attacks on hospitals and health infrastructure, and one confirmed incident last week, in which a hospital came under heavy weapons attack, killing four people and injuring ten, including six health workers.

We are currently in the process of verifying several other incidents.

The sanctity and neutrality of health care – including of health workers, patients, supplies, transport and facilities – and the right to safe access to care, must be respected and protected.

Attacks on health care are in violation of international humanitarian law.

Prior to the conflict, Ukraine had experienced a recent surge of cases of COVID-19.

Low rates of testing since the start of the conflict mean there is likely to be significant undetected transmission.

Coupled with low vaccination coverage, this increases the risk of large numbers of people developing severe disease.

Critical shortages of oxygen will have an impact on the ability to treat patients with COVID-19 and many other conditions.

At least three major oxygen plants in Ukraine have now closed, and we are seeking ways of accessing oxygen from neighbouring countries and ways to deliver it safely to where it’s needed.

Mass population movements are likely to contribute further to transmission of COVID-19, potentially increasing pressure on health systems in neighbouring countries.

As of yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that more than 870,000 refugees have left Ukraine, and we expect that number to increase rapidly.

WHO is supporting neighbouring countries to address key health issues among refugees and forcibly displaced persons, including mental health and psychological assistance, as well as treatment for diseases including HIV, TB and cancer.

WHO remains committed to meeting the health needs of the people of Ukraine.

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Now, to COVID-19.

It’s encouraging to see that deaths from COVID-19 are now declining globally, and in most regions.

And it’s pleasing to see some countries being able to relax restrictions, without their health systems being overwhelmed.

But it’s far too early to declare victory over COVID-19.

There are still many countries with high rates of hospitalization and death, and low rates of vaccine coverage.

And with high transmission, the threat of a new and more dangerous variant remains very real.

We continue to urge all people in all countries to exercise caution, and we urge all governments to support their people to protect themselves and others.

The only sustainable way out of the pandemic is to reach high vaccine coverage in all countries.

Globally, 56% of the world’s population has been fully vaccinated, but only 9% of the population of low-income countries.

We are now overcoming many of the supply and delivery constraints we faced last year, with more than 1.3 billion doses of vaccine delivered by COVAX, and the supply outlook for this year is positive.

We must now turn our attention to addressing the crucial question of how we turn vaccines into vaccinations, how we ensure all countries have enough tests, enough oxygen to treat patients, and enough PPE to keep health workers safe.

And we call on all governments to continue with surveillance, to track the virus, as well as testing to make sure patients receive the right treatment.

To achieve all our targets, we are calling on all countries to fill the urgent financing gap of US$16 billion for the ACT Accelerator.

Germany has become the first country to pledge to meet its ‘fair share’, with a generous contribution of US$ 1.22 billion. Vielen dank Germany, and we look forward to other countries following your lead.

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We must also remember that the effects of the pandemic go far beyond the death and disease caused by the virus itself.

In particular, COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on mental health.

A new WHO report estimates that in the first year of the pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by more than 25%.

The greatest increases in depression and anxiety were found in places that were the most affected by COVID-19, where infections were high and social interaction was restricted.

Our review found that females were more affected than males, and younger people, especially those aged between 20 and 24, were more affected than older adults.

This increase in the prevalence of mental health problems coincided with severe disruptions to mental health services, and underscored chronic underinvestment in mental health, leaving huge gaps in care for those who need it most.

By the end of last year, some services had been restored, but too many people remain unable to get the care and support they need.

WHO has worked with partners to lead an inter-agency response to the mental health impacts of COVID-19, by disseminating guidance, tools and resources for responders and the general public, and by supporting countries to integrate mental health and psychosocial support in their response.

Christian, back to you.

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