Milestones :: Perspectives :: Research
WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on COVID-19 – 5 August 2021
5 August 2021
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening to all Member States, and thank you for joining us once again in our weekly session.
With the development of vaccines in record time we have come so far. But the world is now in a period of real danger. Many of the gains we have made are now being eroded.
The total number of reported cases will likely pass 200 million tomorrow. And we know the real figures are much higher. The highly transmissible Delta variant has now been detected in at least 132 countries. But the rise in cases is not just a natural process; it is being fuelled by increased social mixing, inconsistent public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccination.
Over 4 billion vaccines have been administered globally, but more than 80% have gone to high- and upper-middle income countries. Health workers and people most at risk in lower-income countries are not receiving vaccines, while some countries are vaccinating those at low risk of serious disease.
This is wrong. The hard-won gains we have made are being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed as the increased number of infections is creating a shortage of life-saving treatments.
Twenty-nine countries have high and rising oxygen needs, and many countries have inadequate supplies of basic equipment to protect frontline health workers. Meanwhile, testing rates in low-income countries are less than 2% of what they are in high-income countries. This leaves us blind to understanding where the disease is and whether new, more dangerous variants are emerging.
So far, the Secretariat has supported 117 countries with oxygen concentrators and generators; we’re providing guidance to help countries better detect variants; and we continue to work daily with our global networks of experts to understand why the Delta variant spreads so readily. But the needs are much greater than the resources we have to meet them.
The WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for 2021 faces a funding shortfall of US$900 million, almost half of what we need. Of the funds we have received, nearly all of them are earmarked. This shortfall is already having an impact on our operations, and the lack of flexibility, in particular, leaves us in real danger of not being able to sustain urgent priorities for vaccination, surveillance and response in countries experiencing surges in cases.
In addition, the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator is launching the Rapid ACT-Accelerator Delta Response, or RADAR, issuing an urgent call for US$7.7 billion for tests, treatments and vaccines. In parallel, we will need $3.8 billion in additional financing this year for COVAX to exercise its options to purchase vaccines for 2022.
At the same time, we are working to find new ways of scaling up vaccine production. Last week we took another step forward in setting up a technology transfer hub for mRNA vaccines in South Africa, with a letter of intent that sets out the terms of collaboration.
WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by the end of September and at least 40% by the end of this year, and 70% of the world’s population by the middle of next year.
Yet even while a large percentage of the world’s people are still waiting for their first dose, some countries are moving towards booster doses. I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected.
High-income countries have now administered almost 100 doses for every 100 people. Meanwhile, low-income countries have only been able to administer 1.5 doses for every 100 people, due to lack of supply.
We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries. That’s why I am calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10% of the population of every country to be vaccinated.
To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines. We call on those countries and vaccine producers to prioritize COVAX.
At the same time, we must all remember that vaccines are not the only tool. Indeed, there is no single tool that will defeat this pandemic. We can only defeat it with a comprehensive approach of vaccines in combination with the proven public health and social measures that we know work.