Africa: WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks At the Member State Information Session On Covid-19 – 6 May 2021


Your Excellency Minister Harsh Vardan, Chair of the Executive Board,

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’s announcement by the United States of America that it will support a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines is a significant statement of solidarity and support for vaccine equity.

We are deeply grateful to the Biden Administration for this decision to participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization.

We urge other Member States and blocs to follow suit, and we hope that this decision will help to increase the global production and equitable distribution of vaccines.

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On Monday, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced the end of the most recent Ebola outbreak, three months after the first case was reported in North Kivu.

I congratulate the government, health workers, communities and all WHO staff who were involved in the response.

This has only been possible thanks to a concerted, comprehensive and consistent approach, using vaccines and therapeutics alongside proven public health measures, with empowered and engaged communities.

COVID-19 is a very different disease, but the approach is the same.

The absence of any one of these key measures presents a weakness that this virus will exploit, as we are seeing all over the world.

Around the world, cases of COVID-19 have increased for the ninth straight week, and deaths have increased for the sixth straight week.

More cases of COVID-19 have been reported globally in the past two weeks than during the first six months of the pandemic.

Over the last several weeks, countries in each WHO region have shown a sustained upward trend in cases and deaths.

Now is not the time to let our guard down, even for countries that are now seeing declines in cases.

Alongside vaccination, all countries must continue with a tailored and consistent application of the proven public health measures that have been the backbone of the response to date – including hand hygiene.

Yesterday was World Hand Hygiene Day, a reminder that clean hands save lives, especially at the point of care.

And yet globally, one-third of health facilities lack hand hygiene resources at the point of care, and one quarter of health facilities do not even have access to basic water services.

A new WHO online monitoring portal will help Member States identify and address gaps in hand hygiene.

The economic benefits of hand hygiene are estimated at 16 times the cost.

This is one of the single best investments in health care.

Which brings me to another of the best investments in health care: midwives.

Yesterday was also the International Day of the Midwife. To mark the day, WHO, the UN Population Fund, the International Confederation of Midwives and other partners published the 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery report, which shows that the world currently faces a shortage of 900 000 midwives.

Fully investing in midwives by 2035 would avert roughly two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths, saving 4.3 million lives per year.

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At the World Health Assembly last May, Member States passed a landmark resolution recognizing the leadership role of WHO and the role of the United Nations system in coordinating the comprehensive global response to COVID-19.

The resolution called on Member States to implement a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to ensure a more coherent, fair and effective global response, including for a more equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Member States also agreed that WHO should initiate an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19.