Africa: Director-General's Opening Remarks At Member State Information Session On Covid-19 - 13 May 2021

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I would like to start by saying Eid Mubarak to all Muslim brothers and sisters, and wish them healthy, joyful, and safe Eid.

Your Excellency Harsh Vardhan, Chair of the Executive Board,

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.

Globally, we saw a slight decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths last week, with declines in most regions.

Cases and deaths are still increasing rapidly in WHO's South-East Asia region, and there are countries in every region with increasing trends.

But the number of weekly cases and deaths remain near their record highs, with more than 5.4 million reported cases and almost 90 thousand deaths last week.

While any decline is welcome, gains can be easily lost. In some ways, the way down is more dangerous than the way up.

Over the past year, many countries have experienced a declining trend in cases and deaths and have relaxed public health and social measures too quickly, only to suffer a harsh resurgence.

The pandemic is still evolving, and progressing around the world.

Excellencies, colleagues, let me be clear: Globally, we are still in a perilous situation.

Transmission is being driven by the spread of variants, increased social mixing, the too-quick relaxation of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccination.

Yes, vaccines are reducing severe disease and death in countries that are fortunate enough to have them in sufficient quantities, and early results suggest that vaccines might also drive down transmission.

But the shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic.

High- and upper-middle income countries have received 83% of the world's vaccines while, low- and lower-middle countries have received just 17% of the world's vaccines.

Redressing this global imbalance is an essential part of the solution, but not the only part, and not an immediate solution.

We have many vaccines for many diseases, but for each of them we still need a combination of vaccines and public health measures. The same is true with COVID-19.

You must use every tool at your disposal to drive transmission down, right now. Even if your country has a downward trend, now is the time to surge your capacities.

Even in countries with the highest vaccination rates, public health capacities must be strengthened to prepare for the possibility of vaccine-evading variants.

How quickly we end the pandemic, and how many sisters and brothers we lose along the way, depends on how quickly and how fairly we vaccinate a significant proportion of the global population, and how consistently we all follow proven public health measures.

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As you know, there have been new reports in the media about allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse linked to WHO's Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I am personally appalled by these reports, and I know many of my colleagues are too.

These reports jeopardise our mission and our work, but more importantly they are a shocking betrayal of trust of the people we serve, many of whom are women in vulnerable situations.

Just 10 days ago Member States were briefed by the Independent Commission that has been established to conduct a thorough investigation, with the support of an independent firm that was hired by the independent commission.

This is the first time this has been done in the United Nations system. We wanted to do things differently because we want the most thorough and independent investigation possible.

I also hope this approach will help us to identify the root causes and systemic weaknesses that allow sexual exploitation and abuse to happen.

I went to assure Member States that we take this with the utmost seriousness, and that we will act decisively on the commission's findings.

Already we have taken several steps to strengthen our policies and procedures, in line with the UN system:

We are embedding dedicated focal points for the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in all of our field operations;

We are strengthening community engagement, and putting in place mechanisms for reporting and investigating allegations and protecting those we serve, especially the most vulnerable;

We are taking a survivor-centred approach in the deployment of personnel, and will take prompt and robust action in all cases where WHO staff are found to have engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse, including collaborating with relevant national authorities on criminal proceedings;

We have implemented a new policy on Preventing and Addressing Abusive Conduct, and we are strengthening awareness and training programmes targeting everyone who works for or with WHO.

And we are promoting a respectful workplace to prevent and respond to discrimination, abuse of authority, and harassment, including sexual harassment.

Once again, we are committed to taking whatever measures are needed to protect the people we serve.

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At last year's World Health Assembly, Member States asked me to initiate an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.

After careful consideration and consultation, I asked President Sirleaf and the Right Honourable Helen Clark to take on the task of chairing this evaluation.

Beyond that, this has been an entirely independent process.

The co-chairs selected the other panel members, drew up the terms of reference, appointed a Secretariat and got on with the work.

Yesterday, after extensive efforts to collect and analyze a wealth of information, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response released its findings and recommendations.

We look forward to the publication of the full report at the World Health Assembly.

The Independent Panel's report is one of several reports reviewing different aspects of the pandemic, and WHO's work, including the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations;

The Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme;

The external Evaluation of the Transformation Agenda;

And the Intergovernmental working group on Sustainable Financing.

I thank each panel and committee for its work, and we look forward to reviewing their reports as a totality, and to discussing them with you, our Member States, in the coming weeks.

As always, we are grateful for your engagement with today's presentation, and we look forward to your questions and comments.

I thank you.

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