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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at G20 Health Ministers Meeting - 5 September 2021

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Rome, Italy

Your Excellency Minister Speranza,

Honourable Ministers, dear colleagues, Bongiorno.

When we met virtually in Riyadh last year, we all hoped that by now the pandemic would be under control. But the opposite is true. Many countries continue to face steep increases in cases and deaths, despite the fact that more than 5 billion vaccines have now been administered worldwide.

But almost 75 percent of those doses have been administered in just 10 countries. Africa has the lowest vaccination coverage at 2%. This is unacceptable. WHO’s global targets are to support every country to vaccinate at least 10 percent of its population by the end of this month, at least 40 percent by the end of the year, and 70 percent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.

We can still reach these targets, but only with the commitment and support of G20 countries. As the largest producers, consumers and donors of COVID-19 vaccines, you hold the key to achieving vaccine equity and ending the pandemic.

We can never allow a pandemic on this scale to happen again. And we can never allow an injustice like this to happen again.

As you know, there have been several reports and reviews of the global response to the pandemic, including the report of the G20 High-Level Panel. Whatever structures and mechanisms emerge, WHO believes they must be grounded in these core principles:

They must have the engagement and ownership of all countries; They must be multisectoral, involving partners from across the One Health spectrum;

They must be linked to, and aligned with, the constitutional mandate of WHO, rather than creating parallel structures;

They must ensure coherence with the International Health Regulations and other international instruments;

And they must be accountable and transparent.

Reflecting these principles, we see four critical areas for action. First, better global governance.

There are several proposals for new governance structures. We strongly support high-level political engagement with pandemic preparedness and response. It’s essential that any new mechanism is inclusive, equitable and accountable. We believe an international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response will strengthen the foundation for global cooperation, setting the rules of the game, and enhancing solidarity among nations.

An every-nation-for-itself approach did not work this time, and it won’t work next time. Second, more and better financing for national and global preparedness and response.

Crucially, any financing facilities must be built using existing financial institutions, rather than creating new ones that further fragment the global health architecture. Third, better systems and tools, across the One Health spectrum.

Already, WHO has taken steps to start building some of those tools. As you know, together with Chancellor Merkel, I had the honour of opening the WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence in Berlin last week, and several other initiatives are in development.

And fourth, a strengthened, empowered and sustainably financed WHO at the centre of the global health architecture, to fully realise the Organization’s broad constitutional mandate. With 194 Member States and 152 country offices, WHO has unique global reach and unique global legitimacy.

But over several decades, it has been progressively weakened by a debilitating imbalance between assessed and voluntary, earmarked contributions that distort our budget and constrain our ability to deliver what our Member States expect of us. Redressing this imbalance is critical if WHO is to be the independent and authoritative institution the world needs it to be.

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends, I leave you with three concrete requests.

First, support the achievement of WHO’s global vaccination targets, by swapping near-term delivery schedules with COVAX, fulfilling your dose-sharing pledges by the end of this month at the latest, and facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing. Second, support the development and adoption of a legally binding international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response, as a commitment to future generations.

And third, strengthen WHO by supporting initiatives that strengthen, not weaken, its mandate, and by committing to a historic reversal of the current imbalance between assessed and voluntary contributions. Finally, I agree with His Excellency Minister Speranza: carpe diem!

Thank you all once again, and I look forward to our discussion. Grazie mille.