Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and thank you all for joining us for today’s briefing on this very exciting initiative.
As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us many lessons.
One of them is that there is an urgent need for a globally agreed system for sharing pathogen materials and clinical samples, to facilitate the rapid development of medical countermeasures as global public goods.
Whether it is for SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, or for any future pathogen with epidemic or pandemic potential, the rapid sharing of biological material is an essential starting point for an effective response.
But at the moment, weak surveillance networks around the world pose a real threat to the timely detection and characterization of a novel pathogen, and to sharing with other countries.
At the World Health Assembly in November I announced the creation of a new repository for specimens at a secure facility in Switzerland, which we are calling the BioHub.
This is in line with WHO’s mandate to develop mechanisms to facilitate the equitable allocation of life-saving interventions, based on public health needs.
The WHO BioHub System would offer a trusted, transparent mechanism that would facilitate the processing, characterization, amplification and sharing of samples with Member States and partners.
I stress that this is a voluntary mechanism. It does not replace or compete with existing systems, but offers an additional opportunity to move faster than viruses and give us the safety net that we may be lacking.
We won’t build this system overnight. It will take time, which is why we are proposing a step-wise approach.
For the first phase, we will use the current response to COVID-19 as an opportunity to test our assumptions and operational pathways.
One quick win would be the rapid sharing of SARS-CoV-2 and its emerging variants.
In the longer term, this will pave the way towards a system that will promote the rapid and timely sharing of biological materials with epidemic or pandemic potential, facilitate rapid access to pathogens, and promote equitable access to countermeasures.
Since I announced this project at the World Health Assembly in November, several Member States have made commitments and we have taken first steps towards operationalization.
We are very grateful to those Member States that have supported this initiative and who continue to work with us on this proof of concept.
And we continue to encourage all Member States to share data and samples of new variants in a timely way.
We look forward to briefing you today on these first steps and to your feedback on how best to move forward, as we work together for a healthier, safer, fairer future.
And I would like to use this opportunity to thank Mike Ryan and his team, Sylvie Briand and others.
I thank you.