Africa: WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Member State Information Session On Covid-19 - 15 April

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Your excellency, Minister Vardhan,

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.

Around the world, cases and deaths are increasing at worrying rates.

The number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months.

This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic.

This is being driven by a combination of rapidly-spreading variants, increased social mixing, inconsistent use and premature easing of public health measures, fatigued populations, and uneven and inequitable vaccine coverage.

In some countries, despite continuing transmission, restaurants and night clubs are full and markets are crowded, with few people taking precautions.

Intensive care units in many countries are overflowing and people are dying.

This is a predictable outcome. And it is also totally avoidable.

WHO does not want endless lockdowns. We all want to see societies and economies reopening, and travel and trade resuming.

We have the tools in hand to control the pandemic, but every country must apply them consistently.

We urge all Member States to implement a tailored, measured, agile and evidence-based combination of measures, including surveillance, testing, contact tracing, supportive quarantine and compassionate care.

And we must continue to encourage people to take the personal precautions to keep themselves and others safe: physical distancing, masks, hand hygiene and ventilation.

We may sound like a broken record, but these measures work.

So many countries have shown that this virus can be stopped with proven public health measures and strong systems that respond comprehensively, rapidly and consistently.

Vaccines are a powerful tool, but vaccines alone will not end the pandemic.

And inequitable distribution of vaccines continues to pose a major threat to our ability to bring the pandemic under control.

This week I joined discussions hosted by the African Union and the World Trade Organization on how to rapidly increase production.

WHO and our partners have also created the COVAX Manufacturing Taskforce, to find ways to increase supply in the short term, and to build a platform for sustainable vaccine manufacturing to support regional health security.

You'll be hearing more on that today from WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

With cases and hospitalizations increasing, it's also more important than ever that all countries have access to diagnostics and therapeutics, including dexamethasone and oxygen.

Today you'll being hearing about the important work being done to address those needs from Peter Sands, the Executive Director of the Global Fund.

The COVID-19 Response Mechanism, launched by the Global Fund, has received US$ 3.8 billion thanks to the generosity of the United States of America and Germany.

WHO will work closely with the Global Fund, the World Bank and other partners in the ACT Accelerator Health Systems Connector to roll out this important initiative.

Even as we support Member States to respond and recover, we're also providing guidance on how to prevent the emergence of future zoonoses.

Together with the UN Environment Programme and the World Organisation for Animal Health, WHO has this week issued important new interim guidance calling on national authorities to suspend the trade in live caught wild mammals and to close certain sections of food markets as an emergency measure.

And of course, we're continuing to provide normative tools for Member States to address the full range of health challenges they continue to face on top of the pandemic.

I'm very proud today to introduce the WHO technical manual on tobacco tax policy and administration, which we launched earlier this week.

The world allows tobacco to kill over 8 million people every year, and to drain an estimated 1.4 trillion US dollars from the global economy in health expenditures and lost productivity.

Developing countries, those which can least afford it, incur 40 percent of these losses. Smoking also raises the risk of severe COVID-19.

Increasing tobacco taxes is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use, and to lower the burden of death, disease, and health costs.

But this effective intervention is still the least implemented of all tobacco control policies.

This new manual will be a critical policy tool as part of our 2021 campaign to encourage 100 million tobacco users to quit.

Excellencies, as always we are grateful for your support.

We look forward to your questions and comments.

And I would like to take this opportunity to wish all our Muslim sisters and brothers Ramadan Karim, Ramadan Mubarak.

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