WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 17 September 2020

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Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Thank you for joining us for this week’s Member State briefing.

Today we will hear from the Minister of Health of Togo, Moustafa Mijiyawa, on the lessons Togo has learned in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Welcome my brother.

We will then hear an update on planning for the Solidarity Vaccines Trial from our chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

We have minimized the presentations today to allow enough time for discussion on this initiative, and we look forward to your guidance and advice on the vaccine initiative.

From the beginning of this crisis, WHO has been supporting global efforts to develop a vaccine. In concrete terms, that means developing target product profiles, criteria for prioritization of vaccines and a core vaccine trial protocol.

We have engaged with vaccine developers and academics to standardize lab assays, animal models, and other normative methodologies.

Throughout the process, we are tracking the landscape of vaccine candidates.

Vaccines will be a vital tool for bringing the pandemic under control. But we have no guarantee that any one vaccine now in development will work. The more shots we have on goal, the higher the chance we will have a very safe and very efficacious vaccine.

That is why we are working to foster global solidarity and collaboration in vaccine research.

It is really encouraging that we see a large number of self-financing countries that are engaged in finding global solutions to access to vaccines.

Our sincere thanks.

As you know, WHO, the European Commission and other partners established the ACT Accelerator in April to catalyse the development and equitable allocation of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

So far, more than 170 countries have expressed interest in joining the COVAX Facility, which will guarantee access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccine candidates.

I urge those countries that have not yet joined COVAX to do so by tomorrow’s deadline for submitting your commitment agreements to Gavi.

For the ACT Accelerator to work as planned, it must be funded. So far, 3 billion US dollars has been invested. This has resulted in a very successful start-up phase, but it is only a tenth of the remaining 35 billion dollars needed for scale-up and impact.

15 billion dollars is needed immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines.

I would like to thank President Ramaphosa of South Africa and Prime Minister Solberg of Norway for agreeing to co-chair the ACT Accelerator Facilitation Council, which had its first meeting last week. I would also like to thank UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, President Kagame of Rwanda and the ministers from many Member States who participated in the meeting.

If time allows, Dr Bruce Aylward will give an update on the ACT Accelerator at the end of today’s briefing.

Now more than ever, we need to come together to marshal our combined resources to defeat this global threat.

This past Monday, we had the pleasure of presenting the new report from the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board.

As you know, WHO and the World Bank founded the GPMB two years ago because we were concerned that the world was stuck in a cycle of panic and neglect.

In this new report, the GPMB lays out the lessons the world must learn and the concrete actions we can take to protect ourselves.

I urge you all to read the report. We must learn these lessons now and take the necessary steps to make our world safer.

Governments and international agencies must be accountable to the populations we have pledged to serve.

We have to work together, plan for the long term, and realize that spending on health and preparedness is not charity, it’s an investment in our future.

Crucially, we must invest in health and care workers.

Globally, around 14% of COVID-19 cases reported to WHO are among health workers, and in some countries it’s as much as 35%.

However, data are limited and it’s hard to know whether health workers are infected in their workplaces or communities.

But it is not just the risk of infection. Every day, health workers are exposed to stress, burnout, stigma, discrimination and even violence.

That’s why this year, in the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, World Patient Safety Day - which we celebrate today - is dedicated to the safety of health workers.

To mark the day, we are launching a charter on health worker safety, which we invite all countries, hospitals, clinics and partners to implement.

No country, hospital or clinic can keep its patients safe unless it keeps its health workers safe.

Now more than ever, we have a duty to give health workers the safe working conditions, the training, the pay and the respect they deserve.

I thank you.