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Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 7 May 2021

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Wednesday’s announcement by the United States of America that it will support a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines is a significant statement of solidarity and support for vaccine equity. We are in an unprecedented crisis that requires unprecedented action. Cases are at a record high, almost 100 thousand people are dying globally each week, and we have a chronic vaccine crisis.
This afternoon, WHO gave Emergency Use Listing to Sinopharm Beijing’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the sixth vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality. The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, has also reviewed the available data, and recommends the vaccine for adults 18 years and older, with a two-dose schedule. As we recover and rebuild, we have a unique moment to mobilize investments for healthier, more resilient, more productive and more sustainable societies. That’s why we have established a new WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All – to identify new ways to shape the global economy, and to build societies that are healthy, inclusive, equitable and sustainable.
Wednesday marked the International Day of the Midwife. To mark the day, WHO, the UN Population Fund, the International Confederation of Midwives and other partners published the 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report, which shows that the world currently faces a shortage of 900 000 midwives.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Wednesday’s announcement by the United States of America that it will support a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines is a significant statement of solidarity and support for vaccine equity.

I know that this is not a politically easy thing to do, so I very much appreciate the leadership of the United States, and we urge other countries to follow their example.

I also want to emphasize that WHO values the incredible contribution of the private sector to the pandemic and to health in general.

We would not have the vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and devices that save lives and improve well-being around the world if it were not for the innovation of the private sector.

WHO supports companies making a fair return on their investment in research and development, for investment in further innovation.

We are in an unprecedented crisis that requires unprecedented action. Cases are at a record high, almost 100 000 people are dying globally each week, and we have a chronic vaccine crisis.

The World Trade Organization provisions for IP waivers were designed precisely for a situation like this. If we don’t use them now, then when?

It’s also important to remember that intellectual property waivers will need to be accompanied by transfer of technology and know-how for these difficult-to-make vaccines.

We continue to encourage all Member States to support technology transfer through C-TAP, the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.

We encourage governments to offer incentives to manufacturers to share technology and know-how.

And we encourage countries with the most vaccines to donate doses through COVAX, which is the fastest and most equitable way to increase the distribution of vaccines globally.

Just as it takes a comprehensive approach of public health measures to defeat COVID-19, so solving the vaccine crisis requires that we pull out all the stops.

WHO is continuing to explore every avenue for increasing access to vaccines globally.

This afternoon, WHO gave Emergency Use Listing to Sinopharm Beijing’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the sixth vaccine to receive WHO validation for safety, efficacy and quality.

This expands the list of vaccines that COVAX can buy, and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine.

The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, or SAGE, has also reviewed the available data, and recommends the vaccine for adults 18 years and older, with a two-dose schedule.

Vaccines remain a vital tool. But right now, the volume and distribution of vaccines is insufficient to end the pandemic, without the sustained and tailored application of public health measures that we know work.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a vivid demonstration that a health crisis is not just a health crisis; it can have dramatic consequences for livelihoods, businesses and economies.

The pandemic has shown that when health is at risk, everything is at risk. But when health is protected and promoted, individuals, families, communities, economies and nations can thrive.

That’s why universal health coverage is WHO’s top priority. All roads should lead to universal health coverage.

But globally, we are going in the wrong direction. Around the world, more households are spending an increasing proportion of their income on health. And more people are being exposed to poverty as a result of out-of-pocket health spending.

It is clear that making progress towards universal health coverage cannot just be a matter for ministries of health, but takes an all-of-government approach, with leadership from the highest political levels, and close engagement with ministries of finance.

As we recover and rebuild, we have a unique moment to mobilize investments for healthier, more resilient, more productive and more sustainable societies.

We need a new narrative that makes health for all the central goal of public policies on innovation, industry, employment, environment and more.

That’s why we have established a new WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All – to identify new ways to shape the global economy, and to build societies that are healthy, inclusive, equitable and sustainable.

The council comprises 11 distinguished experts in economics, health, government, finance and development from around the world, and is chaired by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, the Professor of the Economics of Innovation and Public Value, and Founding Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London.

Professor Mazzucato, thank you for your leadership of this new council, and thank you for joining us today. You have the floor.

[PROFESSOR MAZZUCATO ADDRESSED THE MEDIA]

Thank you so much, Professor Mazzucato, and I very much look forward to the council’s work in the months and years ahead, and thank you so much for your leadership.

Finally, Wednesday marked the International Day of the Midwife.

To mark the day, WHO, the UN Population Fund, the International Confederation of Midwives and other partners published the 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report, which shows that the world currently faces a shortage of 900 000 midwives.

Fully investing in midwives by 2035 would avert roughly two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths, saving 4.3 million lives per year.

Midwives are not a cost, they’re an investment in a healthier, safer, fairer future for all of us.

Christian, back to you.