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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the COVID-19 media briefing– 1 June 2022

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

As you know, Saturday marked the end of the first in-person World Health Assembly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As usual, WHO’s Member States discussed a huge range of issues.

But the most significant decision of the week was the Assembly’s adoption of a landmark resolution to increase assessed contributions – the membership fees that countries pay – to a target of 50% of our base budget by the end of the decade, from just 16% now.

This change will give WHO the flexibility and predictability to plan for long-term programming in countries, and to attract and retain the people we need to deliver those programmes.

Along with this, WHO is committed to stronger governance, accountability and efficiency.

The Assembly also made important decisions on strengthening WHO’s preparedness for, and response, to health emergencies, including making targeted amendments to the International Health Regulations.

Alongside a new international accord on pandemic preparedness, a sharpened IHR will be a critical piece of a stronger global architecture for health emergency preparedness and response.

I am also humbled and honoured that Member States elected me for a second term.

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Reported cases and deaths from COVID-19 continue to decline globally, although this trend should be interpreted with caution because many countries have reduced the number of tests they do, which in turn reduces the number of cases they find.

And we do see concerning trends in several regions. Reported cases and deaths are increasing in the Americas, while deaths are also increasing in the Western Pacific region and in Africa.

Once again, the pandemic is not over. We continue to call on all countries to maintain testing and sequencing services, to give us a clearer picture of where the virus is spreading, and how it’s changing.

And we call on all countries to vaccinate all health workers, older people and other at-risk groups.

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Now for an update on monkeypox.

More than 550 confirmed cases have now been reported to WHO, from 30 countries that are not endemic for monkeypox virus.

Investigations are ongoing, but the sudden appearance of monkeypox in many countries at the same time suggests there may have been undetected transmission for some time.

So far, most cases have been reported among men who have sex with men presenting with symptoms at sexual health clinics.

These communities are working hard to inform their members about the risks of monkeypox, and prevent transmission.

But all of us must work hard to fight stigma, which is not just wrong, it could also prevent infected individuals from seeking care, making it harder to stop transmission.

WHO is urging affected countries to widen their surveillance, to look for cases in the broader community.

Anyone can be infected with monkeypox if they have close physical contact with someone else who is infected.

The situation is evolving, and we expect that more cases will continue to be found.

It’s important to remember that generally, monkeypox symptoms resolve on their own, but can be severe in some cases.

WHO continues to receive updates on the status of ongoing monkeypox outbreaks in the countries in Africa where the virus is endemic.

WHO’s priorities now are first, to provide accurate information to those groups most at risk of monkeypox;

Second, to prevent further spread among at-risk groups;

Third, to protect frontline health workers;

And fourth, to advance our understanding of this disease.

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Now, to Ukraine.

After one hundred days of war, Ukraine’s health system is under severe pressure.

In the face of the deteriorating health situation, WHO has increased its presence in Ukraine and in countries hosting displaced people.

Since the Russian Federation’s invasion began, WHO has delivered over 515 metric tonnes of medical supplies and equipment, and trained more than 1300 health workers in trauma surgery, mass casualties, burns and chemical exposure.

Meanwhile, the number of attacks on health care continues to increase.

As of yesterday, WHO has verified 269 attacks on health in Ukraine, killing 76 people and injuring 59.

Health care must never be a target.

We continue to call on the Russian Federation to end the war.

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The invasion of Ukraine has badly disrupted food supplies, exacerbating the risk of famine around the world. This is compounded by the impact of climate change and extreme weather.

The Horn of Africa is now experiencing one of its worst droughts in recent history.

There is a high risk of famine and malnutrition, severely affecting an estimated 15 to 20 million people in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Populations in Djibouti, Eritrea, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan are also affected.

Tens of thousands of families are being forced to leave their homes in search of food, water and pasture.

Hunger and under-nutrition greatly increase health risks, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women, newborns, small children, older people and those living with noncommunicable diseases and disabilities.

Mass displacement and a lack of access to safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, means the risk of outbreaks is very real.

This is especially worrying in an already under-immunized population with little access to health services.

Food is not the only shortage. In Tigray, Ethiopia, blockades have caused a shortage of fuel that is crippling the health system.

More than 6 million people remain under siege by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, after more than 18 months. Although some food is being delivered, it’s not enough, and basic services remain unavailable, and the region sealed off from the rest of the world.

The Ayder hospital in Mekelle, the region’s only referral hospital, is at risk of shutting down because of lack of fuel to run generators and ambulances.

The hospital is running very low on basic supplies, like IV fluids and antibiotics, even as hospital staff are reportedly collapsing due to hunger.

This is a hospital serving a population of 6 million people, which is responsible for performing thousands of surgeries and deliveries every year.

WHO is doing its best to help, but the only solution to this inhumane situation – as in Ukraine – is peace.

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Finally, yesterday was World No Tobacco Day.

Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year.

We are making clear progress. Tobacco use continues to decline, and 60 countries are on track to achieve the target of a 30% reduction in tobacco use by 2025.

More than 100 countries have now mandated graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging, 18 countries have introduced plain packaging, and another 9 are on the way.

But tobacco doesn’t just harm human health; it also hurts the health of our environment.

A new WHO study has found that every year, the tobacco industry costs the world 600 hundred million trees, 84 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, 200 hundred thousand hectares of land, and 22 billion tonnes of water.

The effects are felt mostly in low and middle-income countries.

As our new report highlights, tobacco is poisoning people and planet. It is time to quit this deadly habit.

Fadela, back you to you.