Africa: Director-General’s Remarks At WHO Global Research and Innovation Forum – 13 May 2021

Esteemed guests, dear colleagues and friends,

Fifteen months ago, WHO convened the first Global Research and Innovation Forum following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

It brought together 500 scientists from 60 countries to identify key priorities to be addressed in this unfolding global threat.

Their experience and foresight have proven essential to shaping the response.

These goals included target product profiles for drugs, vaccines and diagnostics; criteria for vaccine prioritization; evidence-based public-health measures, and more.

Using WHO’s R&D Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics, thousands of experts came together to address these goals.

The lesson is clear: an agile, collaborative approach to research and innovation is essential to responding both to COVID-19, and to the epidemics and pandemics of the future.

On behalf of WHO and our 194 Member States, I would like to thank all the scientists and partners who have collaborated with us.

I would also like to thank the hundreds of thousands of patients and volunteers who participated in clinical studies, and the researchers who conducted them.

National institutions and research centres across the globe have played a critical role, by supporting the implementation of priority research.

Together, these collective contributions have helped us to make substantial strides in the global response to COVID-19.

However, we still have work to do.

Globally, the situation remains perilous.

The spread of variants, the too-speedy relaxation of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccination are all driving transmission.

COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to reduce severe disease and death, and early results suggest that they might also drive down transmission.

Yet their inequitable distribution means the richest countries have received 83 percent of vaccines, while lower middle income and low-income countries have received only 17 percent, despite being home to nearly half the world’s population

WHO is working hard to address this disparity, through the COVAX facility and other global initiatives.

Of course, it is important to remember that vaccines are not our only tool in response to COVID-19.