WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the WHO press conference – 23 March 2022
…Several countries are now seeing their highest death rates since the beginning of the pandemic.
This reflects the speed with which Omicron spreads, and the heightened risk of death for those who are not vaccinated, especially older people.
We all want to move on from the pandemic. But no matter how much we wish it away, this pandemic is not over. Until we reach high vaccination coverage in all countries, we will continue to face the risk of infections surging, and new variants emerging that evade vaccines. Even as some high-income countries propose a second booster dose, one third of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.
But there are some promising signs of progress. In Nigeria, for example, vaccine uptake was dramatically increased when supply stabilized, and planning was done on how to effectively distribute vaccines.
WHO’s target remains to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country by the middle of this year, with priority given to health workers, older people and other at-risk groups. Achieving that target is essential to save lives, prevent the risk of long COVID, protect health systems and increase population immunity.
Other tools, including testing, sequencing and contact tracing, also remain essential, and it’s vital that countries don’t abandon the capacities they have built over the past two years.
WHO continues to support countries with the tools they need…
Finally, tomorrow is World TB Day.
Tuberculosis kills more than 1.5 million people each year. Ending this debilitating disease remains a priority for WHO, and in recent years, we have made encouraging progress.
More than 66 million people received access to TB services since the year 2000. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to disruptions that reversed years of progress. And the war in Ukraine is also jeopardising progress in that country.
For the first time in over a decade, WHO has reported an increase in TB deaths. This is a very dangerous trend that we must arrest. We call on all countries to invest in expanding access to effective tools against tuberculosis, and in new tools to End TB.
African countries scale back on COVID-19 measures
24 March 2022 -WHO AFRO
Brazzaville – With new COVID-19 cases significantly dropping, many countries are increasingly curtailing COVID-19 surveillance and quarantine measures. While the need to reopen economies and resume social life is important, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for caution and consideration of the risks involved.
Contact tracing is a key strategy for curbing the spread of the virus and reducing mortality. In August 2020, 23 out of 54 countries on the continent were conducting comprehensive contact tracing, which entails listing and following all the contacts of a confirmed case. With the evolution of the pandemic, countries have moved towards prioritized contact tracing, where only contacts at high risk of infection or falling severely ill are followed. Based on analysis of open-source data, WHO finds that by 15 March 2022, 13 countries were conducting comprehensive surveillance, while 19 countries were carrying out prioritized contact tracing. Twenty-two African countries were no longer carrying out any kind of contact tracing.
“It is a matter of concern that nearly half of all countries in Africa have stopped tracing the contacts of cases,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “This, along with robust testing, is the backbone of any pandemic response. Without this critical information, it is difficult to track the spread of the virus and identify new COVID-19 hotspots that may be caused by known or emerging variants.”
Aside from contact tracing, testing is a critical surveillance strategy. The WHO benchmark for countries with a good testing rate is 10 tests per 10 000 population per week. In the first quarter of 2022, only 27% of countries were achieving this weekly target, indicating a concerning decrease in testing rates compared with 2021, when 40% of countries reached the benchmark. Aside from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and antigen rapid diagnostic tests, WHO is also recommending self-testing using antigen-detection rapid tests to expand access to diagnostics and has published guidelines.
While COVID-19 cases have declined across the continent since the peak of the Omicron-driven fourth wave in early January 2022, vaccination coverage remains far behind the rest of the world. About 201 million people or 15.6% of the population are fully vaccinated compared with the global average of 57%.
However, with cases low and pressure mounting to open up the economy, countries are not only cutting back on surveillance but a raft of other measures. A WHO survey conducted in March 2022 found that seven out of 21 countries reporting no longer required quarantine for people exposed to the virus. One country did not require isolation of confirmed cases, while four required isolation for only symptomatic cases…
EU strengthens partnership with WHO to boost local manufacturing and access to vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Africa
24 March 20220
The Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO) are strengthening their partnership to improve equitable access to safe, effective, and quality-assured vaccines, medicines and health technologies in Sub-Saharan Africa, Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced today in Geneva.
Commissioner Urpilainen said: “The European Union and WHO share a common ambition to boost local production capacity and access to quality, safe, effective and –importantly – affordable medicines and vaccines. Under the Team Europe initiative for local manufacturing in Africa, today with Dr. Tedros we agreed on stepping up support to our African partners in tackling some of the main barriers to access and availability, with concrete projects financed with at least €24.5 million from the EU budget. Together, we are strengthening the foundations of resilient health systems, universal health coverage and health security for now and in the future.”
The EU–WHO partnership will assist the African Union in reaching its target of increasing local vaccine production, in Africa and for Africa. It will also support the achievement of African Union objectives in areas such as jobs and growth, trade, and scientific cooperation.
The financial contribution of €24.5 million from the EU supports three main categories of action: regulatory strengthening (€11.5 million), technology transfer (€12 million), and demand consolidation and strategic purchasing (€1 million).
Technology transfer: WHO is facilitating technology transfer for local production in Sub-Saharan Africa, in close cooperation with national, continental, and global stakeholders (COVAX Manufacturing Task Force). The EU will support the mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa, technology transfer across the region, and the development of the workforce. Total EU and Member States’ support to the hub reaches €40 million.
Regulatory strengthening: The EU and WHO will support African partners, at national, regional and continental levels in strengthening regulatory frameworks and functions. This is part of a broader package of support for regulatory strengthening to create an enabling and innovative environment for the local manufacturing of vaccines, medicines and health technologies. This will reinforce the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization (AMRH) initiative and the African Medicines Agency…