Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: Globally, new Covid infections and deaths remain worryingly high

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I would especially like to thank the Republic of Uganda for hosting this regional meeting of the World Health Summit, and for the honor of inviting me to speak with you today.

Globally, newly reported cases of COVID-19 have now declined for eight weeks in a row, and deaths have declined for seven weeks in a row. While this is good news, globally, new infections and deaths remain worryingly high.

As you know, high-income countries have been able to vaccinate large portions of their populations, and started to ease public health and social measures. Meanwhile, most low-income countries still do not have enough vaccine to cover their most vulnerable and at-risk populations, let alone the rest of their populations.

We are facing, as a result, a two-track pandemic, fuelled by inequity, as Professor Axel said. This is a divide between the haves, and the have nots.

Africa must not be left behind.

Across the African continent, we are seeing an extremely worrying rise in COVID-19 cases and serious illness. The third wave is spreading quickly and hitting hard.

The number of cases and deaths in Africa increased by almost 40% in the past week, and in some countries the number of deaths tripled or quadrupled.

The epidemic is resurging in 12 African countries, and is rising in many others, driven by a mix of public fatigue, social mixing, ineffective use of public health and social measures, and vaccine inequity, and the spread of new variants.

The impacts of COVID-19 go beyond the disease itself. Nearly every country in our continent reports disruptions to essential health services.

With the support of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and COVAX, 47 countries in the African continent have started vaccinating. However, the volumes of vaccines are nowhere near enough.

So far, Africa has administered just over 45 million doses, or 1.6% of the global total. And this is tragic.

WHO, through the COVAX Manufacturing Taskforce and the ACT Accelerator Facilitation Council Vaccine Manufacturing Working Group, is working day in and day out to urgently increase the production and equitable distribution of vaccines.

WHO is also working with the African Union and Africa CDC to establish the Africa Medicines Agency, to a build a strong regulatory institution for Africa.

More than anything else, the pandemic has demonstrated that health is not a luxury item or simply an outcome of development – it is a human right and a prerequisite for social and economic development and stability.

Because progress on noncommunicable diseases is also stalling, particularly in low-income countries, WHO is developing an implementation roadmap for 2023-2030 in support of the prevention and control of NCDs.

A further challenge, and opportunity, comes from Africa’s status as the world’s youngest continent, with almost 60% of the population under the age of 25. It is therefore critical that young people be involved in shaping a healthy future.

Investments in our young people’s health and wellbeing is the foundation for peaceful and prosperous communities.

Your excellencies, in closing, let me leave you with three priority areas:

First is vaccine equity, and that means sharing vaccines now and also investing in local production.

If countries immediately share doses with COVAX and if manufacturers prioritise COVAX orders, we can vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by September, and at least 40% by the end of the year.

Dose sharing must happen immediately to fill an urgent supply gap: we need an additional 250 million doses by September, with 100 million in June and July.

Vaccine equity is the best way to control the pandemic and reboot the global economy.

We also need the sharing of know-how, technology and licenses, and the waiving of intellectual property rights. Africa should support the waiver of intellectual property rights.

The pandemic has demonstrated that Africa cannot rely solely on imports of vaccines from the rest of the world.

We must build that capacity through local and regional manufacturing, not only for COVID-19 vaccines, but for other vaccines and medical products.

Second, prevention.

Vaccines alone will not end this pandemic. The same public health measures that have been the bedrock of the continental strategy must remain central to the response.

It’s those public health measures that Africa did better until recently.

That means strengthened surveillance, increased testing, careful contact tracing, supported quarantine, and compassionate care.

And it means empowering and engaging communities to continue with the individual precautions that we know work: physical distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, cleaning hands, and opening windows.

And third, preparedness.

We must all learn the lessons the pandemic is teaching us and do everything we can to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond rapidly to future epidemics and pandemics.

There is no global health security without local health security.

At the recent World Health Assembly, WHO Member States agreed to hold a Special Session of the World Health Assembly in November to consider the proposal for a Pandemic Treaty.

A treaty would foster improved sharing, trust and accountability, and help strengthen national, regional and global capacities for global health security. We hope that such a treaty would have the support of African countries.

Finally, let me add that at the core of all of our efforts to support countries is universal health coverage, based on strong primary health care, which is the cornerstone of social, economic and political stability.

Your Excellency, President Museveni, thank you so much for blessing this meeting with your presence. Thank you so much for your leadership.

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Dr. Tedros is the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General. Speech was made during the World Health Summit Regional Meeting Africa, in Kampala, Uganda on Sunday, June 27, 2021

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