Africa: Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Media Briefing On Covid-19 - 17 May 2021

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For the second week in a row there has been a global decline in cases and deaths from COVID-19. There's a huge disconnect growing where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates, there are appears to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection. The pandemic is a long way from over.

WHO has been responding to the surge in cases in India and other hotspots. Demand is currently so high that WHO needs immediate funding in order to sustain its technical and operational support to all countries - especially the most affected - involved in the present wave.

I want to reiterate the statement that was released by Unicef overnight, which outlines the huge shortfall in vaccine supply to COVAX. The surge in cases has compromised global vaccine supply and there is already a shortfall of 190 million doses to COVAX by the end of June.

This week marks UN Global Road Safety week and we are seeking to garner policy commitments at national and local levels to deliver 30 kilometer per hour speed limits in urban areas and generate local support for low-speed measures overall.

Over the weekend, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel could potentially "unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis." It is essential that the norms of international humanitarian law be fully respected.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

For the second week in a row there has been a global decline in cases and deaths from COVID-19.

There is a huge disconnect growing, where in some countries with the highest vaccination rates, there appears to be a mindset that the pandemic is over, while others are experiencing huge waves of infection.

The situation in a number of countries continues to be very concerning. The pandemic is a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it's over everywhere.

Even some places that have previously done very well at containing COVID-19 are seeing dramatic increases in cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

New variants of concern, fragile health systems, reduced implementation of public health measures and supply shortages of oxygen, dexamethasone and vaccines are all compounding the current situation.

But there are solutions to these problems.

Where cases are rising, now is the moment to ensure people are adhering to public health measures including physical distancing, the wearing of masks and preventing large gatherings.

Even where cases have dropped, genetic sequencing is critical so that variants can be tracked and measures are not eased prematurely.

WHO has been responding to the surge in cases in India and other hotspots.

However, demand is currently so high that WHO needs immediate funding in order to sustain its technical and operational support to all countries - especially the most affected - involved in the present wave.

In 2020, donors very generously contributed to the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

However, in 2021, the current response plan is underfunded and the vast majority of that is ring fenced by donors for specific countries or activities.

This is constraining WHO's ability to provide an adaptable and scalable response in emerging hotspots.

WHO requires urgent funding to the current response plan, which would allow us to scale up support for countries and support the ACT Accelerator.

Flexibility of that finance is key, not just so that we can respond quickly to the emergency needs in several countries including Nepal, but that we can work to save lives and livelihoods wherever it is most needed in a rapidly evolving situation.

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On vaccine supply, I want to reiterate the statement that was released by Unicef overnight, which outlines the huge shortfall in vaccine supply to COVAX.

The surge in cases has compromised global vaccine supply and there is already a shortfall of 190 million doses to COVAX by the end of June.

COVAX works and has so far delivered 65 million doses to 124 countries and economies but it is dependent on countries and manufacturers honouring their commitments.

While we appreciate the work of AstraZeneca, which has been steadily increasing the speed and volume of its deliveries, we need other manufacturers to follow suit.

Pfizer has committed to providing 40 million doses of vaccines with COVAX this year, but the majority of these would be in the second half of 2021.

We need doses right now and I call on them to bring forward deliveries as soon as possible.

COVAX partners are in discussion with Johnson & Johnson to receive doses in the second half of 2021 but this has not been finalised and we do not know when they will arrive.

Moderna has signed a deal for 500 million doses with COVAX, but the majority has been promised only for 2022.

We need Moderna to bring hundreds of millions of these forward into 2021 due to the acute moment of this pandemic.

Once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to COVAX.

Furthermore, we need high-income countries that have contracted much of the immediate global supply of vaccines to share them now.

I call on manufacturers to publicly commit to helping any country that wants to share their vaccines with COVAX to lift contractual barriers within days not months.

We also need manufacturers to give the right of first refusal to COVAX on any additional dose capacity.

And we need the large vaccine manufacturers to enter into deals with companies like Teva, Incepta, Biolyse and others who are willing to use their facilities to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

Only by working through COVAX can we quickly get vaccines to those health workers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for more than a year.

We need to collectively set ambitious goals to at least vaccinate the world's adult population as quickly as possible.

No one is safe until we're all safe.

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Due to lockdowns and people working from home, mobility decreased in the pandemic.

This has led to fewer road crashes overall.

However, because people often drive at higher speeds when there is less traffic, the number of deaths did not decrease to the same degree.

When speeds are lowered, the risk of death and injury reduces exponentially.

This week marks UN Global Road Safety week and we are seeking to garner policy commitments at national and local levels to deliver 30 kilometer per hour speed limits in urban areas and generate local support for low-speed measures overall.

Today, I am pleased to be joined by Zoleka Mandela who is the Global Ambassador for the Child Health Initiative to outline the effort to ensure every child has a healthy journey to school.

Zoleka the floor is yours.

[ZOLEKA MANDELA ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Zoleka, thank you for sharing your reflections on the need for action to reduce traffic speed and improve road safety.

Together we are building momentum towards the launch of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.

We've made great progress but with your support and partners around the world we can do a lot more. Zoleka, thank you so much again.

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Over the weekend, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel could potentially "unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis."

The health situation is also highly concerning and in the recent escalation of conflict, dozens of incidents involving health workers and health facilities have occured.

Furthermore, COVID-19 testing and vaccination has been severely impacted. This creates health risks for the world as a whole.

Protection of health workers and health facilities is an imperative in all circumstances.

It is essential that the norms of international humanitarian law be fully respected.

In particular, health workers and infrastructure should always be protected and I call for leaders on all sides to ensure respect for these vital humanitarian laws.

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