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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on COVID-19 - 17 June 2021

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Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all Member States, and thank you so much for joining us once again.

Globally, the number of new cases of COVID-19 reported to WHO has now declined for 7 weeks in a row, which is the longest sequence of weekly declines during the pandemic so far.

While weekly cases are at their lowest since February, deaths are not falling as quickly. The number of deaths reported last week was similar to the previous week.

And the global decline masks a worrying increase in cases and deaths in many countries.

Although the absolute numbers of newly reported cases and deaths in Africa remain lower than other regions, the steep rate of increase is deeply concerning.

In the past 7 days, reported cases from Africa have increased by 55%, and reported deaths have increased by 38%.

And we know that the actual numbers are higher.

A recent study in the Lancet showed Africa has the highest global mortality rate among critically ill COVID-19 patients, despite having fewer reported cases than most other regions.

The global failure to share vaccines equitably is now taking its toll on some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Available evidence suggests new variants of concern have substantially increased transmissibility, and these variants are circulating globally.

That means the risks have increased for people who are not protected, which is most of the world’s population.

Right now, the virus is moving faster than the global distribution of vaccines.

At the G7 Summit last weekend, I said that to end the pandemic, our shared goal must be to vaccinate at least 70% of the world’s population by the time the G7 meets again in Germany next year.

To do that, we need 11 billion doses.

I welcome the announcement that G7 countries will donate 870 million vaccine doses, primarily through COVAX. Most of the donation, as you know, came from the US, more than 50%, and we commend the US’s generosity.

This is a big help, but we need more, and we need them now, not next year.

There are enough doses of vaccines globally to drive down transmission and save many lives, if they are used in the right places, for the right people.

Health workers and those most at risk must be given priority over those at low risk.

And it’s not just vaccines. Diagnostics, oxygen and dexamethasone are also essential for finding cases, providing life-saving care and applying public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

We’re grateful to those donors who are supporting the supply of certain commodities for clinical care, but earmarking of funds for specific products inevitably leaves gaps in the clinical care pathway, which puts lives at risk.

An oxygen tank is no use without the tubes needed to connect it to a ventilator, and a patient.

Today you will hear an update on clinical operations from my WHO colleagues Dr Janet Diaz, our pillar lead for clinical management, and Guillaume Queyras, our pillar lead for operational support and logistics.

And you will also hear an update on the importance of diagnostics and genetic sequencing to monitor and assess variants, and to meet the public health goals of ending this pandemic, from Dr Hanan Balkhy, Assistant Director-General for Antimicrobial Resistance, and Dr Sylvie Briand, Director of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness.

I’m also pleased that today we are joined by Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund and Dr Emma Hannay, Chief Access Officer of FIND. Welcome to both of you.

As always, we are grateful for your engagement with today’s presentation, and we look forward to your questions and comments.

I thank you.