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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at Financing COVID-19 Vaccines for Africa: A whole-of-Africa approach to addressing vaccine access, delivery and uptake – 4 March 2021

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Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Good afternoon to all of you, and thank you so much for the opportunity of speaking to you today.

When COVID-19 first emerged more than a year ago, we were all deeply concerned about its potential impact in Africa, and other regions with weaker health systems.

So far, almost 4 million cases have been reported from African Union countries, and we have lost more than 100 thousand of our brothers and sisters.

We know that the real numbers are higher.

But the pandemic is a surprising paradox: some of the wealthiest countries, with the most advanced medical technology, have been hardest hit, while many countries in Africa have managed to prevent or control widespread community transmission.

This is thanks in part to African countries’ long experience in applying basic public health tools to prevent and respond to outbreaks of infectious disease.

But we also know that our continent’s relatively young population means Africa has not seen the same scale of severe disease and death as other regions with older populations.

Regional solidarity has been a vital part of the response, and I would like to acknowledge the leadership of President Ramaphosa and Mouusa Faki in developing the continental strategy against COVID-19 in Africa, and for bringing together a strong coalition of leading political and business leaders.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO and our partners have worked day and night to ensure equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19.

And we have been working with our partners to support countries in preparing for the rollout of vaccines.

This week, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire became the first countries to start vaccination with doses allocated through COVAX.

Deliveries have also arrived in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Sudan.

Between now and the end of May, 237 million doses of vaccines will be allocated to 142 participating economies and countries in COVAX.

This is encouraging, but we still have a lot of work to do.

One of our main priorities now is to increase the ambition of COVAX to help all countries end the pandemic.

This means urgent action to scale up manufacturing to achieve a rapid increase in the volumes of doses.

We are working with our partners to find ways to increase production, including technology transfer, voluntary licensing and other mechanisms to address production bottlenecks.

We are committed to fostering a closer working relationship between COVAX and AVATT to leverage their combined strength to ensure the rapid scale-up and distribution of all the vaccines we need to stop the pandemic across the continent.

We also thank South Africa and India for their proposal to the World Trade Organization to waive patents on medical products for COVID-19 until the end of the pandemic.

We encourage other African countries to support this initiative.

The flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement are there to be used in emergencies. If not now, then when? We also urge you as finance ministers to invest in local production of vaccines, not only for the pandemic but for other vaccines that all countries need for routine immunization programmes.

Finally, we must remember that although vaccines will help to bring the pandemic under control, we will still be left with many of the same challenges we had before.

There is no vaccine for poverty, hunger, inequality, climate change, child marriage, or many of the other problems our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis.

The pandemic has highlighted that health is central to Africa’s future.

A runner does not win races to become fast; she becomes fast to win races.

In the same way, health is not a product of strong and prosperous nations; it is the means.

A healthy population is a productive, innovative and resilient population.

And the best way to protect and promote the health of a population is to make sure all its people can access the products and services they need, without facing financial hardship.

That’s why I remain more convinced than ever that to build the healthier, safer, fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable Africa we all want, health must be seen not as a cost to be contained, but as an investment to be nurtured – an investment that delivers a rich reward.

WHO remains committed to supporting all African countries to end the pandemic, and build stronger health systems for the healthier, safer and fairer Africa we all want.

Thank you so much.