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

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alth Topics Countries Newsroom Emergencies Data About WHO Home/WHO Director-General/Speeches/Detail/WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on COVID-19 - 19 August 2021 WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on COVID-19 - 19 August 2021 19 August 2021 Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

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

On Saturday, our WHO colleague Dr Ousmane Touré, an epidemiologist from Guinea, died in the earthquake in Haiti.

Dr Touré was a hard-working, dedicated and much-loved team member who worked on the Ebola response in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and had been deployed for the COVID-19 response in Haiti.

He was 39 years old, with a wife and two daughters. The Secretariat is supporting his family at this very difficult time.

WHO and PAHO are also supporting the Government and people of Haiti, where the earthquake has killed more than one thousand nine hundred people, and left thousands more injured and homeless.

Four health facilities have been destroyed and a further twenty damaged.

Urgent needs include medical personnel, health tools and logistical support for the delivery of supplies, deployment of people and transfer of patients.


The people of Afghanistan are also facing an enormous challenge.

The Secretariat is extremely concerned by the large displacement of people and increasing cases of diarrhoea, malnutrition, high blood pressure, probable cases of COVID-19 and reproductive health complications.

There is an immediate need to ensure sustained humanitarian access, and continuity of health services, with a focus on ensuring women and girls have access to female health workers.

The Secretariat’s staff are still in the country and are committed to delivering health services to the most vulnerable.

The Secretariat has sent trauma kits and other medical supplies to help health workers responding to the increases in injuries they’re seeing.

I also spoke with Dr Wahid Majrooh, who has been the acting Public Health Minister since January of this year. He is in Kabul and working to avoid disruptions and keep essential health services moving.


Two weeks ago, we notified the world of a case of Marburg in Guinea.

This week, a new case of Ebola was reported by Côte d’Ivoire, marking the third outbreak of Ebola in Africa this year.

The patient had travelled to Abidjan by road from Guinea, putting both countries on an emergency footing.

Thousands of doses of Ebola vaccines were sent from Guinea to Côte d’Ivoire and ring vaccination of high-risk contacts has started.

The Secretariat has deployed experts to join their country-based counterparts to support the Ministry of Health to increase infection prevention and control, diagnostics, contact tracing, treatment, community mobilization and cross-border surveillance.

Guinea has also deployed ring vaccination experts and shared monoclonal antibody treatments with Côte d’Ivoire.


Last month, the Secretariat informed Member States about our proposal for a permanent International Scientific Advisory Group for Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO, to establish a more systematic way of identifying the source of new outbreaks.

The broad purpose and parameters of SAGO were shared with Member States in a circular letter for your review and feedback.

The draft terms of reference were shared with Member States earlier this week, outlining the principles for the functions, composition, and operation of SAGO. We will issue a call for nominations very shortly.

SARS-CoV-2 is just the latest in a series of outbreaks caused by emerging and re-emerging pathogens, including SARS, MERS, Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, Nipah and more.

SAGO will play a vital role in studying the emergence of new pathogens, including the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2.

I wish to emphasise that SAGO is not only about the next phase of studies into the origins of SARS-CoV-2; it is a long-term initiative to support studies into the origins of any and all future emerging pathogens.

We seek the support of all Member States for this important initiative, which will benefit all Member States.

Doctors Mike Ryan and Maria Van Kerkhove will present more details in a few moments.

Thank you once again for your support and engagement. As always, we look forward to your comments and questions.

Jude, back to you.

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