Africa: WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on COVID-19 – 30 July 2021

Dr. Bruce Aylward and WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
document
Geneva —
  • In Africa, deaths have increased by 80% over the same period.  Much of this increase is being driven by the highly-transmissible Delta variant, which has now been detected in at least 132 countries.  
  • WHO is supporting countries with supplies of oxygen, with guidance to help countries better detect variants, and we continue to work daily with our global networks of experts to understand why the Delta variant spreads so readily. 
  • Today we have taken another step forward, with a letter of intent that sets out the terms of collaboration signed by the partners in the hub: WHO; the Medicines Patent Pool; Afrigen Biologics; the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa; the South African Medical Research Council and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  
  • WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year. Less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa. Just 1.5% of the continent’s population are fully vaccinated. 
  • In response to the Delta surge, today the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator is launching the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, issuing an urgent call for 7.7 billion U.S. dollars for tests, treatments and vaccines. 
  • In parallel, we will need additional financing this year for COVAX to exercise its options to purchase vaccines for 2022.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Earlier this week, I had the honour of traveling to Bahrain and Kuwait, where WHO has opened our two newest country offices.

I also had the opportunity to visit several facilities that have been set up to respond to COVID-19, and was very impressed by the innovative and comprehensive approach.

We now have 152 country offices around the world. They are central to what WHO does – supporting countries to strengthen health systems and improve the health of their populations.

Before that, I was honoured to be invited to Tokyo to address the International Olympic Committee.

I went to answer a question I am often asked: when will the pandemic end?

My answer was that the pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it. It’s in our hands.

We have all the tools we need: we can prevent this disease, we can test for it, and we can treat it.

And yet since our last press conference, cases and deaths from COVID-19 have continued to climb.

Almost 4 million cases were reported to WHO last week, and on current trends, we expect the total number of cases to pass 200 million within the next two weeks. And we know that is an underestimate.

On average, in five of WHO’s six regions, infections have increased by 80%, or nearly doubled, over the past four weeks.

In Africa, deaths have increased by 80% over the same period.

Much of this increase is being driven by the highly-transmissible Delta variant, which has now been detected in at least 132 countries.

WHO has warned that the COVID-19 virus has been changing since it was first reported, and it continues to change. So far, four variants of concern have emerged, and there will be more as long as the virus continues to spread.

The rise is also driven by increased social mixing and mobility, the inconsistent use of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccine use.

Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed.

The increased number of infections is creating a shortage of treatments such as life-saving oxygen.

Twenty-nine countries have high and rising oxygen needs, and many countries have inadequate supplies of basic equipment to protect frontline health workers.

Meanwhile, testing rates in low-income countries are less than 2 percent of what they are in high-income countries – leaving the world blind to understanding where the disease is and how it’s changing.

Without better testing rates globally, we cannot fight the disease on the frontline or mitigate the risk of new, more dangerous variants emerging.

WHO is supporting countries with supplies of oxygen, with guidance to help countries better detect variants, and we continue to work daily with our global networks of experts to understand why the Delta variant spreads so readily.

But we need more:

We need stronger surveillance;

We need more strategic testing to improve the global understanding of where the virus is, where public health interventions are most needed, and to isolate cases and reduce transmission;

We need patients to receive early clinical care by trained and protected health workers, with more oxygen to treat the seriously ill and save lives;

We need well-trained and well-protected health workers and the systems to deliver the services and the tools to save lives;

We need more research and development to ensure that tests, treatments, vaccines and other tools remain effective against the Delta variant and other emerging variants;

And of course, we need more vaccines.

Last month, we announced that we were setting up a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines in South Africa, as part of our efforts to scale up production of vaccines.

Today we have taken another step forward, with a letter of intent that sets out the terms of collaboration signed by the partners in the hub: WHO; the Medicines Patent Pool; Afrigen Biologics; the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa; the South African Medical Research Council and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September, at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year.

We are a long way off achieving those targets.

So far, just over half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their population, less than a quarter of countries have vaccinated 40%, and only 3 countries have vaccinated 70%.

Almost a year ago, WHO began to express concern about the threat of ‘vaccine nationalism’;

In a press conference in November, we warned of the risk that the world’s poor would be “trampled in the stampede for vaccines”;

And at WHO’s Executive Board meeting in January this year, we said the world was on the verge of a “catastrophic moral failure”.

And yet the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust.

All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa.

On current trends, nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target by the end of September.

Around 3.5 million to 4 million doses are administered weekly on the continent, but to meet the September target this must rise to 21 million doses at the very least each week.

Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived.

Less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa. Just 1.5% of the continent’s population are fully vaccinated.

This is a very serious problem if we’re going to take action against this pandemic and end it.

In response to the Delta surge, today the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator is launching the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, issuing an urgent call for 7.7 billion U.S. dollars for tests, treatments and vaccines.

In parallel, we will need additional financing this year for COVAX to exercise its options to purchase vaccines for 2022.

This investment is a tiny portion of the amount governments are spending to deal with COVID-19.

The question is not whether the world can afford to make these investments; it’s whether it can afford not to.

Tarik, back to you.

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 110 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.

X