Africa: WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Member States Information Session On Covid-19 - 18 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, we had hoped that the international team studying the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus would publish its report this week.

As we communicated to Member States earlier this week, there has been a delay, as we were informed from the team. We are seeking to understand when the report will be published.

I am as interested to see the report as you are, and rest assured that we will keep you informed. As soon as it is available, we will arrange for Member States to be briefed on the report, and we will share the report with you 24 hours in advance of the briefing.

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After several weeks of declining cases in January and February, the number of new cases of COVID-19 has now increased globally for three straight weeks.

The number of deaths continues to decline, for now.

Europe and the Americas continue to account for more than 80% of new cases and new deaths.

It's vital that as countries roll out vaccines, they do not relax effective public health measures too quickly.

No Member State can simply vaccinate its way out of the pandemic.

And as countries roll out COVID-19 vaccines, WHO is continuing to keep a close eye on their safety.

As you know, several Member States have suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines as a precautionary measure, based on reports of blood clots in some people who received the vaccine.

Other Member States have decided to continue using the vaccine after reviewing the same data.

WHO's Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has been reviewing the available data, is in close contact with the European Medicines Agency, and we expect the committee to issue a statement tomorrow.

For now, WHO's view continues to be that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks, and we recommend that vaccinations continue.

Having a vaccine remains a far smaller risk than not having one.

More than 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally so far, and no deaths have been found to have been caused by COVID-19 vaccines.

But the virus they are designed to stop has killed more than 2.6 million people. And more will continue to die the longer it takes to distribute vaccines as rapidly and as equitably as possible.

In last week's information session, Bruce briefed you on the new strategy and budget for the ACT Accelerator.

The plan outlines the goals for the ACT Accelerator to change the dynamics of the outbreak by rolling out more than two billion doses of vaccine, 900 million diagnostic tests and tens of millions of courses of oxygen and dexamethasone.

Next week, the ACT Accelerator's Facilitation Council will consider two major issues that are key to the success of the plan.

The first is removing any barriers to the uptake of new, affordable rapid diagnostics to improve outbreak management, and the combination of oxygen and dexamethasone to save lives.

The second is scaling up the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

In parallel, the Facilitation Council Co-Chairs, their Excellencies the President of South Africa and Prime Minister of Norway, will write to all potential donor countries with an appeal to close the financing gap of US$ 22.1 billion for 2021.

Today, I am delighted that Dr John-Arne Rottingen, Norway's Ambassador for Global Health and Chair of the Council's finance working group, will update us on preparations for next week's Council and the rollout of the financing appeal for the ACT Accelerator.

It's important to emphasize that we have taken care to align the work of the ACT Accelerator and WHO's Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for 2021.

Our appeal for US$ 1.9 billion for the SPRP includes WHO's US$ 1.2 billion contribution to the ACT Accelerator.

In the coming weeks we will provide a more detailed update on the SPRP, including our ongoing work across the three levels of the Organization under each of the 10 pillars of the SPRP.

You have heard me say many times how critical flexible funding is to our work - and that's also true for the SPRP, and the ACT Accelerator.

You very generously supported our work under the SPRP in 2020, and that continued support is no less vital this year.

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As many of you know, there is now growing interest globally in the idea of an international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.

Over the past few weeks, several Member States have asked for the Secretariat's view on this initiative, and we have dedicated today's information session to discussing it.

As you know, the WHO Constitution empowers the World Health Assembly to adopt conventions or agreements with respect to health matters.

Let me be clear from the outset that a treaty should not be about replacing the International Health Regulations.

Quite the opposite: the intent of a treaty should be to give political muscle to the implementation of the IHR, and to build a stronger global institutional structure to prevent and respond to future pandemic threats.

This proposal has taken various forms, including potentially using a model similar to the 2003 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

A treaty on pandemic preparedness could set the international normative framework for preparedness and response, by laying out mutually-agreed principles, priorities and targets, with the details to be spelled out later.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the gaps in national, regional and global preparedness and response systems, and the weaknesses of the international health architecture.

The world cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over to start planning for the next global health emergency.

The impacts on our societies, economies and health, especially for the poor and the most vulnerable, are too significant. We cannot do things the way we have done them before and expect a different result. We must do something new.

Without an internationally coordinated, all-of-government, all-of-society, One Health approach to pandemic preparedness and response, we remain vulnerable.

Of course, with its foundation of strong national preparedness and response.

The goals of such a treaty could advance principles that are globally shared:

to build resilience to pandemics and other global health emergencies, with robust national preparedness systems;

to support sustainable funding and capacity for prevention, detection, and responses to outbreaks;

and to ensure equitable access to pandemic countermeasures.

Finally, the treaty could support global coordination through a stronger and more accountable WHO, along with governance and oversight mechanisms to increase trust, ensure accountability and foster transparency.

Whatever form or approach is ultimately taken, the essence of the idea is to foster solidarity and sharing of information, pathogens, tools and technologies.

And indeed, we have already started several initiatives that could translate the changes we need into action, including the Universal Health and Preparedness Review, the Biohub and the ACT Accelerator.

We think it is possible to move forward on a treaty with determination, if there is political will.

If Member States decide to pursue the idea, the World Health Assembly could pass a resolution in May establishing an inclusive inter-governmental process to negotiate the treaty, potentially followed by a special session of the Assembly to consider its adoption.

There could be other approaches, and other mechanisms. The way forward is for you, Member States, to determine.

Excellencies, as always we are grateful for your support.

We look forward to your questions and comments.

I thank you.

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