Africa: WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Media Briefing On Covid-19 - 1 April 2021

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This week, more than 25 leaders from the G20, G7 and from every region, united behind the idea of a pandemic treaty. I am pleased that more leaders are now joining the call for a pandemic treaty, which would be a generational commitment to keeping the world safe. There will always be new pathogens with pandemic potential.

One key aspect that should be enshrined in the treaty, is to a stronger health workforce which is the very essence of health systems resilience. This is the year of the health and care worker and we know that even before the pandemic, there was a shortfall of at least 18 million health workers. As we work to end the pandemic and recover together, health and care workers must come first.

Investing in the health workforce is an investment in women and youth: almost 70% of the global health workforce are women. In particular we must support countries with fewer resources to expand their workforce capacity and pay decent salaries.

The clock is still ticking on vaccine equity. We have nine days left until we reach the hundredth day of the year and the target of starting vaccine rollout to health workers and those at-risk in all countries remains in our grasp.

Today, I'm happy to welcome former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, who has joined the ACT-Accelerator as a special advisor. Carl will help lead the collective advocacy for the ACT-Accelerator, mobilizing support and critical resources so it can deliver against its strategy for 2021.

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

This week, more than 25 leaders from the G20, G7 and from every region, united behind the idea of a pandemic treaty.

There's an acknowledgement and humility from those leaders that collectively the world was not prepared for the first coronavirus pandemic ever seen and that going forward we must collectively do better in future outbreaks.

There's been a great deal of momentum since the President of the European Council, Charles Michel and I spoke about this at Tuesday's press conference.

I am pleased that more leaders are now joining the call for a pandemic treaty, which would be a generational commitment to keeping the world safe.

There will always be new pathogens with pandemic potential.

It's not a matter of if but when.

One key aspect that should be enshrined in the treaty, is to a stronger health workforce, which is the very essence of health systems resilience.

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An effective health work force is a key element to pandemic proofing our health systems.

Health and care workers are at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and they play the critical role in protecting us all.

Far too many health and care workers have died in the pandemic, millions have been infected and the pandemic has taken a huge toll on their physical and mental health with devastating effects on their families and communities.

Anxiety, depression, insomnia, stress have all increased; exhaustion is commonplace and there have been cases of stigma and even abuse.

I give thanks to those that have stood up in one of humanity's toughest periods.

This is the year of the health and care worker and we know that even before the pandemic, there was a shortfall of at least 18 million health workers.

As we work to end the pandemic and recover together, health and care workers must come first.

We must ensure that they are trained, protected and supported to do their job safely and effectively.

As recognized in last week's UN Financing for Sustainable Development report, a true recovery from the pandemic requires additional investment in health and in people.

These two priorities can be achieved if we invest in the health workforce.

Investing in the health workforce is an investment in women and youth: almost 70% of the global health workforce are women.

In particularly, we must support countries with fewer resources to expand their workforce capacity and pay decent salaries.

And we must ensure that they are at the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines.

I would now like to turn to Health Minister of Turkey, Dr. Fahrettin Koca.

Turkey has been a strong champion of 2021 being the year of the Health and Care Workforce.

Dr. Koca the floor is yours.

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Dr. Koca speaks (7 mins)

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Thank you, Dr. Koca. I am glad that vaccines are rolling out to health workers in this difficult period in the pandemic.

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The clock is still ticking on vaccine equity.

We have nine days left until we reach the hundredth day of the year and the target of starting vaccine rollout to health workers and those at-risk in all countries remains in our grasp.

COVAX has already delivered 35 million doses to more than 78 countries.

But there is still a serious challenge on vaccine equity and availability.

Last week, I made an urgent request to countries, with doses of vaccines that have WHO Emergency Use Listing, to share 10 million doses immediately with COVAX.

The extra 10 million doses would be an urgent stop-gap measure so that 20 countries, which are ready but haven't got the supply needed to start vaccinating their health workers and older people, could begin before the hundredth day - 10 April.

I also requested manufacturers to help ensure that the countries that step up can rapidly donate those doses.

This challenge has been heard but we're yet to receive commitments for these doses.

I'm still hopeful that some forward looking and enlightened leaders will step up.

I know this is a challenging time for many countries as cases and hospitalisations are spiking.

But conversely, it's when cases are spiking that it's the most important time to share vaccines equitably and protect health workers and at-risk communities.

The race is on to get vaccines to those places and groups where they can have the greatest impact.

We're not in a race against each other, we're in a race against the virus and over the last year, the ACT Accelerator has been critical for ensuring that new vaccines, lifesaving oxygen, corticosteroids for severe disease and rapid tests are being shared more equitably.

Today, I'm happy to welcome former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt who I appointed as WHO Special Envoy to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

Carl will help lead the collective advocacy for the ACT-Accelerator, mobilizing support and critical resources so it can deliver against its strategy for 2021.

My friend, Carl, the floor is yours.

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Carl Bildt speaks

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Thank you for those inspiring words, Carl and look forward to working with you.

I couldn't agree more and believe that with your support we can take the ACT-Accelerator to the next level, overcome vaccine nationalism so that we defeat this pandemic and recover together.

I thank you!

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