Africa: Who Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Member States Information Session On Covid-19 - 11 March 2021


Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all Member States, and thank you for joining us once again.

As you know, Monday was International Women's Day.

Globally, 59% of deaths from COVID-19 are among men, but women have suffered disproportionately in many other ways.

We have seen appalling increases in violence against women, and reduced access to services for sexual and reproductive health.

Employment losses have been high, even as women have borne a disproportionate burden of care for children and older people.

Women have been at the forefront of the response, making up about 70% of the health work force globally.

And yet, women only hold 25% of leadership roles in health.

This week I was also pleased to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Women in Global Health to promote women in leadership in health.

And in February, together with France and Women in Global Health, WHO launched the Gender Equal Health and Care Workforce Initiative:

To increase the proportion of women in leadership in health and care;

To promote equal pay;

To protect women in health and care from sexual harassment and violence at work;

And to ensure safe and decent working conditions for women health and care workers, including access to personal protective equipment and vaccines against COVID-19.

Earlier this week, WHO also published a new report that represents the largest study ever conducted on the prevalence of violence against women, from 2000 to 2018.

The report paints a shocking picture: an estimated 736 million women - almost one in three women globally - have suffered intimate partner violence, sexual violence from a non-partner, or both, at least once in their lives.

But the report also highlights the many tools that Member States can use to prevent violence against women and provide quality care for survivors.

To mark International Women's Day, WHO also launched a new Global Breast Cancer Initiative, aimed at reducing mortality from breast cancer by 2.5% every year until 2040, saving 2.5 million lives.

Breast cancer has now overtaken lung cancer as the world's most-diagnosed cancer.

Survival five years after diagnosis now exceeds 80% in most high-income countries, but survival rates are much lower in lower-income countries. There is much we can do to save these women's lives.


As you know, the rollout of vaccines through COVAX is continuing.

We expect to deliver a total of 237 million vaccines between now and May.

This is encouraging progress, but the volume of doses being distributed through COVAX is still relatively small.

One of our main priorities now is to increase the ambition of COVAX to help all countries end the pandemic. This means urgent action to ramp up production.

This week, WHO and our COVAX partners met with partners from governments and industry to identify bottlenecks in production and discuss how to address them.

We see four ways to do this.

The first and most short-term approach is to connect vaccine manufacturers with other companies who have excess capacity to fill and finish, to speed up production and increase volumes.

The second is bilateral technology transfer, through voluntary licensing from a company that owns the patents on a vaccine to another company who can produce them - as AstraZeneca has done with SKBio in the Republic of Korea and the Serum Institute of India.

The third approach is coordinated technology transfer, through a global mechanism coordinated by WHO.

This provides more transparency, and a more coherent global approach that contributes to regional health security.

And fourth, many countries with vaccine manufacturing capacity can start producing their own vaccines by waiving intellectual property rights, as proposed by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization.

The TRIPS Agreement was designed to allow for flexibility on intellectual property rights in the case of emergencies. If now is not the time, during an unprecedented crisis, to use those flexibilities, then when?


Now to today's agenda.

First, you will hear an update on the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response from Dr Anders Nordstrom.

I'd like to thank the co-chairs and the members of the panel, and Anders and his team in the Secretariat, for their diligent work so far.

The panel has taken inputs from a broad array of stakeholders, and is now finalizing its conclusions and recommendations.

Anders will provide an update on the substantive work done so far and the next steps in the panel's work.

You will also hear from Professor Lothar Wieler, Chair of the IHR Review Committee.

I would like to thank the members of the committee for their hard work and Dr Wieler for his leadership and dedication.

The work of the IHR Review Committee is being coordinated with that of other ongoing assessments, namely the IPPPR and the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies programme.

Finally, we still hope to receive both the summary and full report of the WHO-led study on the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus next week.

When the reports are ready, we will ask the expert team to share them with Member States ahead of their release, and we are working on organizing a briefing for you.

I have said many times that the world must learn lasting lessons from this pandemic, and there is growing global interest in the idea of a Pandemic Treaty.

It is important to me that we ensure all Member States are fully updated on the status of this exciting idea and we will have a Member State briefing on the Pandemic Treaty next week.

The details of this briefing will be sent out to you shortly.

Excellencies, as always we are grateful for your support.

We look forward to your questions and comments.

I thank you.

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