With positive results from the novel coronavirus vaccine trials, it means that the world “may begin to dream of the end of the pandemic,” the Director General of the United Nations health agency said on Friday, adding that the rich and powerful should not trample the poor and marginalized “in the stampede for vaccines.”
In a speech at the first high-level session of the UN General Assembly on the pandemic, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that, although the virus can be stopped, “ the way forward continues to be dangerous”.
The pandemic has shown “the best and the worst” of humanity, he added, noting “inspiring acts of compassion and personal sacrifice, impressive feats in science and innovation and moving displays of solidarity, but also disturbing signs of self-interest, omission of guilt and divisions ”.
Referring to the current increase in the number of infections and deaths, and without naming names, Tedros said that in places “where science has been drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substitute self-interest, the virus advances, the virus spreads ”.
In his virtual speech to the summit, he warned that a vaccine “will not address the vulnerabilities that are at the base” – poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change – that will have to be tackled once the pandemic ends.
“We cannot, and must not, return to the same patterns of exploitation of production and consumption, to the same contempt for the planet that sustains all life, to the same cycle of panic and meddling and to the same divisive politics that fueled this pandemic,” he declared.
On vaccines, Tedros said that “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter” but the drug “must be shared equally as global public goods, not as private assets that widen inequalities and become another reason why that some people are left behind”.
WHO’s ACT-Accelerator program to develop and distribute vaccines quickly and equitably “runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a noble gesture” if there are no significant new financial contributions, he said.
A total of $4.3 billion is needed immediately to lay the groundwork for the mass purchase and distribution of vaccines, and another $23.9 billion by 2021, he noted. That total, Tedros said, is less than half of 1% of the $ 11 trillion of stimulus packages announced so far by the Group of 20.
The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, made a similar call on Thursday, on the first of two days of the General Assembly session. The leader is frustrated and would like to have seen “a much higher investment rate from the countries that can,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric explained on Friday.
Henrietta Fore, director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, said: “When poor countries started trying to buy vaccines,”none were available or were priced too high.
UNICEF usually distributes 2 billion vaccines a year, he added, and once it gets COVID-19 vaccines, “we are going to double that next year, so we need all the help we can.”
For his part, the Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States, Alex Azar, said that three of the six possible vaccines supported by his government reported promising data and “I have reason to believe that more good news is coming about vaccines and other countermeasures ”.
US President, Donald Trump, formally notified the UN of his withdrawal from the WHO, which he has harshly criticized for its response to the pandemic and which he accuses of giving in to the influence of China.
Azar criticized the lack of a “transparent exchange of information” on COVID-19 and the WHO investigation into the origin of the virus. But he pointed out that he wants health ministers to know that they can count on Washington’s cooperation to defeat the virus “without compromise,” and stressed that the country “is providing more funding, equipment and support that fight the virus than any other. another nation ”.
Despite years of warnings, many countries were unprepared for the pandemic and assumed their health systems would protect the population, Tedros noted. Many of those who have managed the crisis better had previous experience with outbreaks of SARS, MERS, HINI and other infectious diseases, he added.
WHO has received harsh criticism for not assuming a greater role in the management of the pandemic.
During the summit, Tedros noted that “clearly, the global preparedness system needs attention.”
A WHO commission formed in September is reviewing international health regulations, he added, noting that the agency is also working with various nations to develop a pilot program whereby participants conduct regular and transparent reviews of their level of health preparedness.
The pandemic also showed the need for a global system to share samples of viruses and other pathogens that cause disease to facilitate the development of “medical countermeasures as global public goods,” he said, thanking Switzerland’s offer to use a high-security laboratory to manage the new biobank.
Tedros also supported the proposal of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, for an international treaty by which the WHO monitors the risks of infectious diseases in animals and their possible transmission to humans, guarantees to warn of high risks, better access to healthcare and address financial needs. This would provide “the political basis” to strengthen the health sector globally.
The world spends 7.5 billion annually on health, almost 10% of total Gross Domestic Product, Tedros pointed out, but most of the investment goes to treating diseases in rich countries instead of “promoting and protecting health.”
“We need a radical rethinking of the way we view and value health,” he said.
“If the world is to avoid another crisis on this scale, investment in basic public health functions, especially primary care, is essential, and all paths should lead to universal health coverage with a solid foundation in primary health care,” Tedros claimed.