Africa: WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At High-Level Dialogue On Multi-Religious Response to Covid-19 Vaccine

press release

Religions for Peace

Professor Karam, Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and thank you, Secretary-General Karam, for initiating this important discussion.

I am honoured to have this opportunity to speak with senior religious leaders from around the world.

I don't need to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down.

More than 2.6 million people have died. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Fear, uncertainty and suspicion abound.

Inequities are growing and public trust is low in many places.

As religious leaders, you have played a vital role in communicating with your communities.

For so many people, faith communities are trusted sources of support, comfort, guidance and information.

In many countries, faith communities are also key providers of health and social services, education and food programmes.

We thank you for this critical role you are playing in the global response.

I know that you and your communities have so many questions about when life will return to normal.

There are no easy answers.

Globally, cases are increasing again, new variants are spreading, and although vaccines have brought so much hope, the rollout of these lifesaving tools is marred by inequity.

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, we knew that vaccines would be a vital tool for bringing the pandemic under control.

But we also knew from experience that market forces alone would not achieve the equitable distribution of these life-saving tools.

That's why almost a year ago we formed the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, including the COVAX vaccines pillar, a unique partnership with two aims: to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics fast, and distribute them fairly.

So far, more than 400 million doses of vaccine have been distributed in 148 countries, but more than three-quarters of all vaccines are going to only ten countries, nearly all of them wealthy.

So far, COVAX has delivered almost 30 million doses of vaccine to more than 50 countries.

We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of barriers to overcome.

Justice and equity are key principles in all faith traditions, and we seek your support as faith leaders as we continue to work for a more equitable sharing of vaccines and other life-saving tools.

We're also launching a campaign called "Get one, give one" to encourage people all over the world both to be vaccinated, and to support vaccinating others.

At the same time, it's important to remember that vaccines complement, but do not replace, the proven public health measures that have been the mainstay of the response since the beginning.

This pandemic still has a long a way to run. Intense transmission is ongoing, and is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers.

The decisions we all make, as leaders and individuals, can be the difference between life and death.

Over the past year, we have all been reminded of some fundamental truths:

That life is fragile;

That health is precious;

And that we are one humanity.

We may have different cultures, languages and creeds, but we share the same DNA, the same planet, and the same hopes and dreams.

Thank you so much for your leadership and partnership.

I look forward to our discussions today and to finding concrete ways to work together now, and in the future.

But if you ask me, if there's one issue we can focus on, it's vaccine equity.

You have the leverage to convince leaders all over the world to share vaccines, to go for vaccine equity.

Thank you so much again, and I wish us a successful deliberation.

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