WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member States briefing on COVID-19 – 18 February 2021

Health Protection

Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, and thank you for joining us for today’s briefing.
Just over a year ago we launched the first Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for the COVID-19 pandemic.
With an ask of US$1.7 billion, the 2020 SPRP saw an unprecedented response, and we thank all Member States and donors who supported it so generously.
With your support, we raised US$1.58 billion, over 90% of which was allocated to countries and regions, getting vital funding to those at the frontline of the pandemic, and supporting WHO’s core scientific and technical work.
For example, WHO and our partners drove a huge expansion in testing capacity globally, as well as shipping 19 million tests, 243 million items of personal protective equipment and supporting 12,000 ICU beds around the world.
We deployed 191 Emergency Medical Teams, supported sero-epidemiological studies in 58 countries, offered 150 online training events, reaching 4.7 million participants – and much more.
Our detailed report on the 2020 SPRP will be issued in the coming days.
Today we are proud to launch the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for 2021.
The new plan builds on last year’s SPRP, with six objectives:
Suppress transmission; reduce exposure; counter misinformation and disinformation; protect the vulnerable; reduce death and illness; and accelerate equitable access to new tools, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
The financial need to meet these objectives is US$1.96 billion, including US$1.2 billion for the WHO component of the ACT Accelerator.
This reflects the cost of WHO’s pandemic response work this year, based on the needs of Member States and partners, building on our partnership to respond to the pandemic over the past year, and the lessons we have learned.
In other words, the SPRP reflects what you, our Member States, are asking us to do to meet your needs.
The SPRP also recognizes the need to fully integrate the COVID-19 response into planning for health and development programmes.
It also covers WHO’s pandemic response work in humanitarian settings, where COVID-19 has heaped further pressure on those who are already so vulnerable. We strongly support the call for a vaccinations ceasefire.
As you know, countries have diverted much of their health workforce and technical capacity to the COVID-19 response.
It is important going forward that we shift to a more integrated approach in order to meet essential health system needs.
The SPRP is designed to complement and work in coordination with other funding mechanisms, not to supplant or duplicate them, with a focus on operational work at the country level.
Fully funding the SPRP is not just an investment in responding to COVID-19, it’s an investment in the global recovery and in building a safer world. With your support WHO will be at the heart of that work.
When we launched the first SPRP a year ago, less than 25,000 cases of COVID-19 had been reported.
Yesterday, 25,000 cases were reported roughly every 100 minutes.
And I’m happy to report that the number of reported cases globally has now declined for the fifth consecutive week. Last week saw the lowest number of reported weekly cases since October.
So far this year, the number of weekly reported cases has fallen by almost half, from more than 5 million cases in the beginning of January down to 2.7 million cases in the week starting February 8th.
This shows that simple public health measures work, even in the presence of variants.
With cases and deaths declining, and vaccines being rolled out, the new SPRP gives us a path to deliver vaccine equity and end the acute phase of the pandemic.
Earlier this week, WHO gave emergency use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX, with production by companies in the Republic of Korea and India.
WHO emergency use listing assesses and assures the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. It is a prerequisite for vaccines to be distributed by COVAX.
This listing was completed in just under four weeks from the time WHO received the full dossiers from the manufacturers.
Three vaccines have now received emergency use listing.
We now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines.
At the Executive Board in January I issued a call to action to ensure that vaccination of health workers was underway in all countries within the first 100 days of the year. It is these health workers who are core to the successful delivery of national response plans, and to the international response.
Tomorrow marks the halfway point, and we have made progress, but we are not there yet.
We still need to scale-up production, and we continue to call for vaccine developers to submit their dossiers to WHO for review at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries.
Finally, a few words about the two outbreaks of Ebola in Africa.
As you know, last week an outbreak of Ebola was detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Four cases have now been reported, and two people have died.
On Sunday, authorities in Guinea declared a separate outbreak of Ebola in the town of Gouéké, in the southeast of the country.
Seven confirmed and probable cases have been reported, including five deaths.
250 contacts have been identified in Guinea and 368 in the DRC, and are being monitored.
Vaccinations are already underway in the DRC, and we expect the first shipment of vaccines to arrive in Guinea this Sunday.
The outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are completely unrelated, but we face similar challenges in both.
Both outbreaks are occurring in areas that have recent experience with Ebola, and are benefiting from that experience, in terms of capacity for surveillance, rapid response, contact tracing, community engagement, clinical care and more.
But both outbreaks are also in hard-to-reach, insecure areas, with some mistrust of outsiders.
WHO is working closely with health authorities in both countries to engage with the affected communities to enhance trust and acceptance, and we will keep you updated.
Ebola and COVID-19 are two very different diseases.
Both thrive on misinformation and mistrust. But both can be stopped with proven public health measures, engaged communities, accurate information and vaccines.
Thank you once again to all Member States for your support and engagement.
We look forward to that continued support and engagement in the coming weeks and months, as we work together to respond, recover and rebuild.
I thank you.

Source: World Health Organization