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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the Member States information session on COVID-19 - 7 October 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 for joining us once again.

Yesterday was an historic day for global health, with the WHO recommendation for broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine.

This recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800 thousand children since 2019 through routine child immunization services.

In addition to existing tools like bed nets, this vaccine could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.

Our trials show that the vaccine is safe; it significantly reduces life-threatening severe malaria; and we estimate it to be highly cost-effective.

This is a powerful new tool, but like COVID-19 vaccines, it’s not the only tool. Vaccination against malaria does not replace or reduce the need for other measures, including bed nets, or seeking care for fever.

I thank the Ministries of Health of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi for their leadership in embarking on these pilot programmes, as well as the children, families and communities who participated, the many donors and partners who supported them, and of course GSK, who developed the vaccine.

This vaccine has been more than 30 years in the making. We still have a very long road to travel. But this is a long stride down that road.

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Today we will be hearing a presentation from Dr Sylvie Briand on the WHO BioHub System, an initiative we have discussed in previous briefings.

The pandemic has highlighted gaps in the global health architecture, including mechanisms for sharing samples of new pathogens.

The BioHub System is designed to fill that gap, by offering a trusted and readily scalable system that would enable the rapid sharing of biological materials with epidemic or pandemic potential.

This is intended to be a system for Member States, co-developed by Member States.

The WHO BioHub System is being developed in two ways: one is operational, to develop and pilot arrangements for sharing pathogens; and the second is concerned with designing the wider system.

Today we are focusing on the second of these, the wider WHO BioHub System, and we invite the feedback of Member States for this proposed process of engagement.

We look forward to your guidance today and going forward, so that we design a system that truly serves your needs.

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The second presentation today will be from my colleague Scott Pendergast, who will present a progress report on the 2021 COVID-19 response under the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan – the SPRP.

Over the last 20 months, WHO and its global network of partners have supported the development, delivery and use of the full range of COVID-19 tools, coordinated research on critical topics, and provided technical guidance to Member States, informed by sophisticated surveillance data.

We have been able to rapidly deploy on-the-ground assistance to countries with weaker health systems capacity, meeting the immediate needs of many vulnerable communities, and strengthen infrastructure for future health crises.

None of this would have been possible without the generous contributions of Member States and other donors.

However, COVID-19 shows no signs of abating, and we still face a lack of flexible funding, which hobbles our ability to respond quickly as new needs arise, and to be a provider of last resort.

Many donors have focused on funding the “hardware” of the response – vaccines, tests, oxygen, PPE and other commodities. But we face a major funding gap for the “software” – the people and skills – needed to deliver those commodities safely and effectively.

We urge Member States to support the updated appeal we are releasing today, to ensure WHO can continue to fully deliver on its mission and mandate around the world.

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Finally, this afternoon the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and I will hold a joint press conference to release the new WHO Strategy to Achieve Global COVID-19 Vaccination by mid-2022.

This strategy was presented to you on September 23, and has now been finalized.

The strategy outlines the road to reaching our targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by the end of next year.

Achieving these targets will require at least 11 billion vaccine doses. By the end of September, just over 6 billion doses had already been administered worldwide.

With global vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, there is sufficient supply to achieve our targets, provided that there is equitable distribution of those doses.

The new strategy will be a living document, constantly updated as the virus and vaccines evolve – which they will almost certainly continue to do, as long as the virus continues to circulate widely.

Tomorrow, we will receive the final report of the Independent Strategic Review of the ACT-Accelerator. This will inform the development of the new 12-month Strategic Plan and Budget for the ACT Accelerator. We will share the working version of that with you next week.

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

I thank you.