WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Mission briefing on COVID-19

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Mission briefing on COVID-19

by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

2 April 2020

Good morning. I’d like to begin by thanking Member States for last week’s briefing. It was inspiring to hear from China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore about their experience and the lessons they have learned. We plan to do another similar briefing in a few weeks’ time, when we will have even more experiences to share from Europe and elsewhere. As I said at yesterday’s press conference, this is a new virus, and the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus – two firsts. We are learning as we go, reviewing the evidence and adapting our recommendations as necessary. In the next day or two, we will reach more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, and 50,000 deaths.

This virus, which was unknown to us three months ago, has exposed the weaknesses and inequities in our health systems and societies, our lack of preparedness, and the gaps in our supply chains and other essential systems.

We have to prepare our health systems for large numbers of cases, even as we maintain essential health services. We know that when health systems are overwhelmed, mortality from vaccine-preventable and other treatable conditions will increase dramatically. Gaps in essential care can result in many more deaths than the coronavirus itself.

WHO has recently published guidance on maintaining essential health services while responding to COVID-19. This is one of more than 40 pieces of detailed, evidence-based guidance to guide countries in the response. Every day, we are engaged in numerous discussions with our extensive networks of experts to refine our guidance to reflect the best science. Our press conferences are a good way for us to highlight key messages for the world at large, but they are no substitute for technical guidance. We urge all countries to read and implement this guidance.

We also recognise the need to adapt our guidance for different settings, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable communities. For example, we recommend handwashing and physical distancing, but we recognize that we need innovative solutions for communities that lack clean water, or live in cramped conditions. WHO, UNICEF and the International Federation of the Red Cross is calling for countries to provide free public hand hygiene stations in areas without access to water and sanitiser.

We are already seeing the economic and social effects of this pandemic in high-income countries. In poor communities, those effects could be even more severe and long-lasting. We are calling on governments to provide a social safety net, so that vulnerable people have food and other essentials during this crisis. WHO, the World Bank and the IMF have united in a call for debt relief for developing countries, to enable them to implement those measures.

I am glad to report that our research and development efforts are moving quickly. The Solidarity trial, which is assessing potential treatments for COVID-19, has already brought in 74 countries, which have either joined the trial or are in the process of joining. More than 200 patients have been randomly assigned to one of the study arms.

Two months ago, we issued our first Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with an initial ask of $675 million for the first three months of the response. As of yesterday, I’m delighted to say that $677 million has been pledged or received. Of that amount, $300 million has been pledged or received for WHO’s operations, and the remainder has been given to partners or bilaterally. I want to put on record my deep gratitude to all Member States and partners for their generosity and solidarity.

But as you know, the pandemic is many times larger than it was in early February, and the global needs have also increased significantly. WHO and partners will require much more support over the coming weeks and months, and we count on the continued support from governments, the private sector and the global community.

We are now finalising the second SPRP, and we will be presenting more details shortly. WHO is committed to working with all Member States to support you with the best evidence, to save lives. 

I thank you.

This is an excerpt as published on the online platform of WHO.

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