Your Excellency Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health and Family Welfare of India,
Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
I’m delighted to be able to welcome representatives from Member States here in the room, and online.
It seems incredible to think that when this Board met in February, there were just 151 cases and 1 death outside China of what we now call COVID-19.
Today, almost 35 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, and more than 1 million people are reported to have lost their lives. The real number is certainly higher.
Numbers can blind us to the reality that every single life lost is someone who loved and was loved by others – someone’s mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son.
They are the reason we’re here.
I would like to invite you to joint me in standing for a moment’s silence to honour those we have lost.
[STAND FOR A MOMENT OF SILENCE]
Although all countries have been affected by this virus, we must remember that this is an uneven pandemic.
10 countries account for 70% of all reported cases and deaths, and just 3 countries account for half. Dr Mike Ryan will give a more detailed epidemiological analysis.
Not all countries have responded the same way, and not all countries have been affected the same way.
There are roughly four different situations that countries are facing:
First, some countries acted decisively and quickly and have avoided large outbreaks.
Second, some countries have had large outbreaks but were able to bring them under control, and continue to suppress the virus.
Third, while some countries brought the virus under control, as economies and societies have eased restrictions, there has been an increase in cases.
And fourth, there are still some countries that are in the intense phase of transmission.
What we’ve learned in every region of the world is that with strong leadership, clear and comprehensive strategies, consistent communication, and an engaged, empowered and enabled population, it’s never too late.
Every situation can be turned around. And hard-won gains can be easily lost.
The pandemic underlines the fundamental importance of investing in public health and primary health care, even as we fight the virus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has worked around the clock to support countries to prepare and respond to this new virus.
On the 30th of January, I declared a public health emergency of international concern – the highest level of alarm under international law.
Just four days later, WHO published our first strategic preparedness and response plan.
But even before that, one of our highest priorities was to rapidly identify this new virus and enable countries to test for it.
Within two weeks of the first cases being reported to WHO, we developed and published the first protocol for developing a PCR test.
We worked with experts in Berlin, London, Hong Kong, Rotterdam and others to develop the first diagnostic test.
On the 2nd of February – less than a month into the outbreak – the first tests were produced and we began shipping them around the world.
At the same time, we worked to expand PCR testing capacity around the world, leveraging national influenza centres and building capacity where it was lacking.
We expanded PCR testing capacity for COVID-19 in Africa from just two countries in January to 32 by the end of February and all countries by mid-June.
Since then we have distributed millions of tests to more than 150 countries.
No laboratory test in history has been developed and deployed as rapidly.
WHO didn’t isolate the virus, we didn’t sequence or publish the genome, we didn’t manufacture the assays and we don’t make PCR machines.
But it was WHO that connected the dots to give countries the capacity to find and respond to this new virus.
We’ve taken the same approach to developing guidance.
Ten months ago, this virus was completely unknown to the world. We have now published more than 400 guidance documents for individuals, communities, schools, businesses, industries, health workers, health facilities and governments.
But we haven’t just published the guidance.
Through the OpenWHO.org online learning platform, we have built country capacity by providing free training in 133 COVID-19 courses, from infection prevention and control to clinical management, operational planning, data collection and much more.
And importantly, we have gone far beyond the 6 official UN languages, delivering courses in 41 languages, demonstrating our commitment to multilingualism.
Our country teams have worked closely with governments to write national plans and identify needs, and to match those needs with more than 600 partners and 74 donors through the groundbreaking COVID-19 Partners Platform.
WHO and our partners sent expert missions to more than 130 countries to provide operational and technical support.
We have sourced, validated, purchased and delivered masks, gloves, respirators, gowns, goggles, swabs, tests, reagents, thermometers, oxygen concentrators, ventilators and more, to 177 countries and territories.
And more than 12,000 patients have now been enrolled in the WHO Solidarity Therapeutics Trial, in nearly 500 hospitals in 29 countries.
But even as we have developed and deployed these tools, we started discussions with many partners about how to accelerate research and development, while ensuring fair distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
In April, the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator was born – an unprecedented global partnership that is delivering tangible results.
Together with our partners, last week we reached an agreement to make 120 million new rapid tests available to low- and middle-income countries.
As soon as data were published showing dexamethasone was effective in treating patients with severe and critical disease, we secured critical supplies for up to 4.5 million patients, to ensure patients in lower-income countries don’t miss out on this life-saving medicine.
COVAX is supporting the development of 9 vaccines, with more in the pipeline.
168 countries and economies are covered by the COVAX facility, representing more than two-thirds of the world’s population, and we are still in discussion with another 25.
All of this has only been possible because of the power of partnership.
WHO doesn’t have the mandate or the capacity to do everything. But we do have the unique mandate and capacity to coordinate the global response, by harnessing the collective strength of our many partners across the UN system and beyond.
And it has only been possible because of you, our Member States.
This is your WHO.
The guidance we provide is not just written by WHO staff, it’s developed in close consultation with experts from your national institutions, drawing on professional networks developed over decades.
The PPE and tests we deliver are paid for with the funds you provide.
Everything we have accomplished together in the past nine months has only been possible because of the deep-rooted transformation that we have designed and implemented together over the past three years.
Throughout the response, we have seen how WHO’s transformation is helping to make us more agile and responsive, and to deliver the support the world needs.
Our new operating model, which aligns our organizational structures vertically at all three levels, is helping us to deliver impact in countries.
Working with the Emergencies programme, and building on the R&D Blueprint, our newly-formed Science Division has brought together researchers from around the world to identify priorities, initiated the Solidarity Trial, and quality-assured our scientific publications and guidance.
Our new Division of Emergency Preparedness has developed the COVID-19 Partners Platform, supported intra-action reviews, and is working closely with the Universal Health Coverage divisions to improve and maintain public health functions and essential health services.
Working with the Emergencies programme, the Division of Data and Delivery for Impact and the digital health department have developed tools under ICD-10 for monitoring COVID-19 associated mortality.
The OpenWHO.org learning platform has provided powerful proof of concept for the WHO Academy.
And the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board has delivered its second report, providing an independent assessment of key gaps in global pandemic preparedness.
Our transformation started with the 13th General of Programme of Work, which you endorsed two years ago, with a new mission statement and the ambitious “triple billion” targets.
The pandemic has demonstrated the intimate links between each of the “triple billion” targets.
Health and well-being, universal health coverage and emergency preparedness and response are three strands of a rope that together provide strong support for social, economic and political stability.
Our first priority must be to keep people healthy and out of hospitals, by addressing the root causes of disease in the air people breathe, the food they eat, the water they drink and the environment in which they live and work.
When people do need health services, those services must be accessible, affordable and high-quality.
And just as many countries invest heavily in their military capacity in case of conflict, so they must invest in robust public health capacities to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond rapidly to outbreaks when they occur.
The pandemic is a powerful demonstration of why the “triple billion” targets we have committed to together are so important, and why we must pursue them with even more determination.
We’re not on the wrong path. We’re on the right path, but we need to go faster, we need to go further, and we need to go together.
The pandemic is a wake-up call for all of us. We must all look in the mirror and ask what we can do better.
Following your guidance, I have initiated several reviews, through the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, the International Health Regulations Review Committee and the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
I look forward to their findings and recommendations, and to building on our transformation to strengthen global preparedness and response.
All three committees will brief you on their progress tomorrow.
As you know, I have also launched an urgent investigation into reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse by people who identified themselves as working for WHO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
We have identified a list of outstanding candidates about leading this investigation, and I will have more news soon.
I wish to be very clear: we hold ourselves to the highest standards and the behavior described in these reports is appalling and unacceptable.
We are totally committed to accountability, both for the results we deliver and for our conduct.
And we are committed to continuous learning, continuous listening and continuous improvement.
But even as these reviews continue, there are already many things we can do together to improve.
For us, change is a constant. We can never sit still. Science and disease patterns are constantly evolving – and so must WHO.
Many Member States have already come forward with suggestions about how to strengthen the global system for emergency preparedness and response.
The pandemic has demonstrated that highly infectious pathogens cannot be contained by any single sovereign state.
We can only confront them by working together in solidarity, and with a One Health approach that addresses the links between human, animal and planetary health.
The world needs a system of robust peer review and mutual accountability for rapid and effective surveillance, preparedness and response.
This is something we have already started working on, learning from the system of Universal Periodic Review used by the Human Rights Council.
And I would like to thank Benin and the Central African Republic for bringing forward this suggestion.
With the northern hemisphere influenza season approaching and cases increasing in many countries, there are three key priorities for the next 3 months.
First, we must realize the full potential of the ACT Accelerator.
Currently, the financing gap for the ACT Accelerator stands at 34 billion dollars, with 14 billion dollars needed now to maintain momentum.
History will not judge us kindly if it records that trillions of dollars were poured into domestic stimulus packages, but the international community could not find the funds to ensure equitable access for all people.
This is not charity. It’s the fastest way to end the pandemic and catalyze the global economic recovery.
Second, we must all continue to make the most of the tools we have: hand hygiene, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, masks, ventilation, surveillance, isolation, compassionate care, contact tracing and quarantine.
And third, I will never tire of calling for solidarity. Finger-pointing will not prevent a single infection. Apportioning blame will not save a single life.
Last week I had the great honour of speaking to Captain Sir Tom Moore.
As he approached his 100th birthday earlier this year, Captain Tom decided to raise 1000 pounds for the UK’s National Health Service by completing 100 laps of his garden. He ended up raising 40 million pounds.
For me, Captain Tom represents the selflessness and solidarity the world needs to overcome this pandemic.
Everyone must play their part, from the individual decisions we make to protect ourselves and others, to the discussions we will have this week on behalf of the people we serve. We’re all in this together.
But I am encouraged that we share a common vision for a stronger WHO, and a healthier, safer, fairer world.
75 years after the birth of the United Nations, the need for national unity and global solidarity has never been more apparent.
The only way forward is together.
We have all been humbled and inspired by the health workers all over the world who have put themselves in harm’s way in the service of others.
Please join me in showing our appreciation and solidarity for these health heroes.
[STAND FOR APPLAUSE]