70th Session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, 25 August 2020

Honourable chairperson, Minister Jacqueline Lydia Mikoolo,
Honourable Minister Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa,
Honourable Ministers and Heads of Delegation,
Your Excellency Amira Elfadil,
My WHO Regional Director, Dr Moeti,
Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear colleagues and friends,
Our continent is facing a health crisis unlike any we have faced before.
Yesterday, we crossed 1 million reported cases in the region, with more than 20,000 deaths.
The number of cases in the region has doubled just in the past 6 weeks.
With the challenges we face obtaining testing kits, it’s likely that the real numbers are significantly higher.
But of course, numbers don’t even begin to tell the real story.
The impact of the pandemic goes far beyond the suffering caused by the virus itself.
Essential services have been suspended or disrupted, putting countless lives at risk.
The pandemic threatens to undo the gains we have made in recent years towards health equity and the Sustainable Development Goals.
But this is far more than a health crisis.
According to the World Bank, the region is now in its first recession for 25 years, and in June the International Monetary Fund predicted that the sub-Saharan economy will contract by 3.2% this year.
Every country faces its own unique challenges. There is no one-size fits all solution.
Every country – and every individual, family and community – must take a comprehensive, risk-based approach, tailored to their own context, using the tools available.
Everyone has a role to play, from cleaning hands to maintaining physical distance, staying at home if sick and wearing masks where distancing is not possible.
Governments must ensure measures are in place for surveillance, testing and contact tracing, to engage and empower communities, and to focus on the most vulnerable groups, including older persons.
As we learn more about the virus, we are learning the importance of focusing on amplifying events.
All over the world, countries have experienced significant outbreaks linked to events with large numbers of people, including at stadiums, nightclubs, places of worship and protests.
Since the earliest days of the pandemic, WHO has been working round the clock at all three levels to support you, our African Member States.
All countries in Africa now have a preparedness and response plan in place.
All countries on the continent now have lab testing capacity for COVID-19, compared with just 2 at the beginning of the pandemic.
Over the past few months, WHO has shipped millions of test kits and tons of protective equipment to many countries in Africa.
We’ve trained thousands of health workers.
And through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, we’re working to ensure that if and when a vaccine is proven to be safe and effective, it will be accessible equitably for all countries, as my sister Amira said.
Of course, COVID-19 is not the only emergency to which we are responding.
More than 100 people have now been infected and 43 people have died in a new outbreak of Ebola in the Equateur province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
We urgently need more human resources and logistics capacity to support the response in an ever-expanding geographic area.
We all saw with the outbreak in North Kivu and Ituri that with strong leadership, close partnership, new tools including vaccines and therapeutics, and with the incredible dedication of the government and health workers, the people and government of DRC have the ability to stop Ebola even in the most difficult circumstances.
Today we are also celebrating another public health triumph: the eradication of wild poliovirus in Africa.
And I fully agree with Tshidi, how difficult these times are, but how our colleagues are working day and night, starting from Tshidi and the whole AFRO team.
This is an incredible achievement, and a much-needed cause for celebration.
The infrastructure built up and the lessons learned through the polio eradication effort are vital tools that countries must apply to the many other health challenges they face, and to strengthening health systems to progress towards universal health coverage.
Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,
Thank you all for your commitment. As we work together to confront this pandemic, I give you my assurance that WHO will continue to support you in every way possible to suppress transmission and save lives.
Even as we respond to the pandemic, we are continuing to transform WHO to serve you better.
Through our special programme on primary health care, we will work with you to strengthen the foundations of health systems.
Through our new division of emergency preparedness, we will support you to prevent and mitigate the impact of emergencies, as well as responding to them.
Through the Office of the Chief Scientist and our division for Data, Analytics and Delivery for Impact, we will provide the evidence and tools you need to strengthen your information systems to make the best decisions for the biggest impact.
And through the new WHO Academy, we will provide in-person and online training, to empower health workers to accelerate advancements in medical care and practices to patients and communities.
All these changes of transformation have been done in collaboration with our regions, and on many issues the AFRO region has lead.
We’re also working with the African Union to strengthen the Africa CDC, as my sister Amira said, and also to establish the Africa Medicines Agency.
I would like to use this opportunity to appreciate the leadership of His Excellency Moussa Faki and also Commissioner Amira.
COVID-19 has taken so much from us. But it has also reminded us that health is not a luxury item; it the foundation of social, economic and political stability.
We’re all in this together. And with national unity and global solidarity, we will overcome this pandemic together.
But finally, I have just one reminder. I would remind all Member States to join, to ratify the Africa Medicines Agency. This will be an excellent institution for Africa, and much-needed. From our side we will support you in any way possible, but I remind you and urge you to join, to ratify, and have the Africa Medicines Agency up and running.
I know how the European Medicines Agency is helping the European Union, and we need to have that kind of continental institution. You have all the commitment from Moussa Faki and also from Amira, and from my sister Tshidi and myself.
Thank you, merci beaucoup, and such a great honour joining you today. Have a successful meeting. Thank you so much.

Source: World Health Organization

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