WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At The Media Briefing On COVID-19 - 20 May 2020

- May 22, 2020-

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Yesterday, we concluded a very productive World Health Assembly.                                                                    

We saw unprecedented solidarity with Heads of Government from around the world beaming into the World Health Assembly to discuss lessons, challenges and collective next steps to tackle the pandemic.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank Heads of Government who participated.

I thank President Sommaruga, President Ramaphosa, President Xi, President Moon, President Macron, President Duque, President Benitez, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Mottley, Prime Minister Tshering, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister Conte, Prime Minister Natano, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc, President von der Leyen, Secretary-General Guterres and all Member State representatives and minsters for joining the Assembly and signing up to a historic consensus resolution on COVID-19 and the way ahead.  

The resolution sets out a clear roadmap of the critical activities and actions that must be taken to sustain and accelerate the response at the national and international levels.

It assigns responsibilities for both the WHO and its member states, and captures the comprehensive whole of government and whole of society approach we have been calling for since the beginning of the outbreak. 

If implemented, this would ensure a more coherent, coordinated and fairer response that saves both lives and livelihoods.

The landmark resolution underlines WHO’s key role in promoting access to safe, effective health technologies to fight the pandemic.

I welcome Member States’ commitment to lift all barriers to universal access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

This includes four critical points from the resolution:

First: that there is a global priority to ensure the fair distribution of all quality essential health technologies required to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second: that relevant international treaties should be harnessed where needed, including the provisions of the TRIPS agreement.

Third: that COVID-19 vaccines should be classified as a global public good for health in order to bring the pandemic to an end.

And fourth: that collaboration to promote both private sector and government-funded research and development should be encouraged. This includes open innovation across all relevant domains and the sharing of all relevant information with WHO. 

An important collaborative response to this resolution will be the COVID-19 technology platform proposed by Costa Rica, which we will launch on the 29th of May, which aims to lift access barriers to effective vaccines, medicines and other health products. We call on all countries to join this initiative. 

I’m glad we are making progress on the research and development agenda, which was mapped out in February at the research and development meeting convened by WHO. 

That roadmap has now given rise to the solidarity trials, which now include 3,000 patients in 320 hospitals across 17 countries and to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

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We still have a long way to go in this pandemic. 

In the last 24 hours, there have been 106,000 cases reported to WHO – the most in a single day since the outbreak began. Almost two thirds of these cases were reported in just four countries.

But, in good news, it has been particularly impressive to see how countries like the Republic of Korea have built on their experience of MERS to quickly implement a comprehensive strategy to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and trace every contact.

This was critical to the Republic of Korea curtailing the first wave and now quickly identifying and containing new outbreaks.                  

However, we’re very concerned about the rising numbers of cases in low- and middle-income countries. 

Governments in the Assembly outlined their primary goal of supressing transmission, saving lives and restoring livelihoods.

And WHO is supporting Member States to ensure supply chains remain open and medical supplies reach health workers and patients. 

As we battle COVID-19, ensuring health systems continue to function is an equally high priority as we recognize the risk to life from any suspension of essential services, like child immunisation. 

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COVID-19 is not the only challenge the world is facing.                                

The climate crisis is causing increasingly strong storms, abnormal weather patterns and catastrophic shocks.

Super cyclone Amphan is one of the biggest in years and is currently bearing down on Bangladesh and India.

Our thoughts are with those affected and we recognize that like with COVID-19 there is a serious threat to life, particularly the poorest and most marginalized communities.

WHO continues to offer support to Bangladesh and India to tackle both COVID-19 and the effects of the super cyclone. 

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I want to end by emphasizing that there is continued hope. 

The last person who was being treated for Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo recovered and was discharged on May 14. 

On that day, the DRC Ministry of Health announced the beginning of the 42-day countdown to the end of the outbreak.

We now have 36 days to go but new cases could still emerge, as we have seen before.

The pandemic has taught and informed many lessons:

Health is not a cost; it’s an investment. 

To live in a secure world, guaranteeing quality health for all is not just the right choice; it’s the smart choice.

I thank you.