November 29, 2021

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 4 November 2021

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World Health Organization
  • More than 5 million deaths have now been reported, and we know the real number is higher. Last week, 56 countries, from all regions, reported an increase in deaths from COVID-19 of more than 10%.
  • Yesterday we added another new tool, with the Emergency Use Listing of Covaxin, the 8th vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality.
  • We continue to call on manufacturers of vaccines that already have WHO Emergency Use Listing to prioritize COVAX, not shareholder profit. No more vaccines should go to countries that have already vaccinated more than 40% of their population, until COVAX has the vaccines it needs to help other countries get there too.
  • The world was not prepared for COVID-19 – and we knew we weren’t prepared. In 2018, WHO and the World Bank formed the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board – the GPMB – an independent panel of experts to identify gaps in the world’s defences, and make recommendations on how to close them.
  • The GPMB published its third report last week. Instead of making more recommendations, the GPMB is calling the world to act on the recommendations it has already made, which are more relevant now than before the pandemic, but on which there remains little action.

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

22 months since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, and almost a year since the first vaccines were approved, reported cases and deaths from COVID-19 are increasing again.

More than 5 million deaths have now been reported, and we know the real number is higher. We are still losing more than 50 thousand of our sisters and brothers every week.

Last week, 56 countries, from all regions, reported an increase in deaths from COVID-19 of more than 10%.

We hear reports from many countries about lack of ICU beds, lack of supplies, overwhelmed health workers, and hospitals deferring other needed procedures.

Let me be very clear: this should not be happening. We have all the tools to prevent transmission and save lives, and we continue to call on all countries to use those tools.

Yesterday we added another new tool, with the Emergency Use Listing of Covaxin, the 8th vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality.

Emergency Use Listing contributes to vaccine equity, by enabling countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and roll out vaccines.

We encourage all vaccine manufacturers who have not yet received Emergency Use Listing to contact WHO to discuss how to accelerate the process through rolling submissions.

We continue to call on manufacturers of vaccines that already have WHO Emergency Use Listing to prioritize COVAX, not shareholder profit.

We continue to hear excuses about why low-income countries have only received 0.4% of the world’s vaccines.

One is that low-income countries can’t absorb vaccines. That’s not true. With the exception of a few fragile, conflict-affected and vulnerable countries, most low-income countries are ready to go.

The problem is simply that they cannot get the vaccines.

Another excuse from manufacturers is that low-income countries have not placed orders for vaccines. Most low-income countries are relying on COVAX, which has the money and the contracts to buy vaccines on their behalf. But manufacturers have not played their part.

We still don’t know when the manufacturers will deliver.

We continue to call on all manufacturers to prioritise their contracts with COVAX and the Africa Vaccines Acquisition Trust, or AVAT.

No more vaccines should go to countries that have already vaccinated more than 40% of their population, until COVAX has the vaccines it needs to help other countries get there too.

No more boosters should be administered, except to immunocompromised people. Most countries with high vaccine coverage continue to ignore our call for a global moratorium on boosters, at the expense of health workers and vulnerable groups in low-income countries who are still waiting for the first doses.

We cannot end the pandemic without vaccines, but vaccines alone will not end the pandemic. Vaccines do not replace the need for public health and social measures – they complement them.

Physical distancing, avoiding crowded spaces, masks, ventilation, hand hygiene and other effective public health measures remain important in every country.

Every country must continue to adjust and adapt its strategy.

To support countries to do that, WHO has developed a tool called the intra-action review, which countries can use to evaluate what’s working, and what’s not.

More than 100 intra-action reviews have now been conducted by 68 countries.

Several countries have conducted multiple reviews, including South Africa, which has done 10, making it a central component of its response.

Several key lessons emerge from these reviews:

The need for strong and active national leadership at the highest levels;

Flexibility and adaptability, by adjusting and repurposing existing systems, guidelines and resources;

Multi-sectoral cooperation;

And, in the case of vaccine roll-out, the need for adequate cold chain capacity and real-time monitoring of vaccine stock.

Ending the pandemic as rapidly as possible must remain the central focus for every country.

At the same time, we owe it to those who have lost their lives to this virus to learn the lessons it is teaching us, and take whatever action is necessary to prevent a future disaster on this scale.

The world was not prepared for COVID-19 – and we knew we were not prepared.

In 2018, WHO and the World Bank formed the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board – the GPMB – an independent panel of experts to identify gaps in the world’s defences, and make recommendations on how to close them.

We did not know then when the next global crisis would arise, or what it would be. But we knew that disease X would come eventually.

The GPMB published its first report in September 2019, just months before the pandemic hit. It identified many of the vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has exposed and exploited:

The lack of political leadership and commitment; the lack of health system readiness; the lack of trust with communities; and the lack of international cooperation.

The second GPMB report, released in the middle of the pandemic last year, incorporated hard-won insights, with calls for predictable and sustained financing; equitable access for vaccines and other life-saving tools; and global governance for preparedness.

The GPMB published its third report last week. Instead of making more recommendations, the GPMB is calling the world to act on the recommendations it has already made, which are more relevant now than before the pandemic, but on which there remains little action.

We have no shortage of reports, reviews and recommendations, but we have a shortage of action. It’s clear what needs to happen:

Better governance for global health security, including a binding treaty on pandemic preparedness and response;

Better financing, to strengthen the capacities of all countries, especially the most vulnerable;

Better systems and tools to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond rapidly to outbreaks with epidemic or pandemic potential;

And a strengthened, empowered and sustainably financed WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.

To say more about its latest report, I’m delighted to welcome my friend and brother Mr Elhadj As Sy, the GPMB co-chair, and the former Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

As Sy, thank you for your leadership. You have the floor.

[ELHADJ AS SY ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you very much, my brother As Sy. I will quote from what you said: if COVID is not the catalyst for change, what will it be? That’s true.

Thank you for your clear call to action. We can only hope the international community acts on that call.

As you said, we know what needs to happen. What we need now is action, urgency and ambition.

Thank you so much again for your leadership.

Tarik, back to you.

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