WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 December 2020

11 December 2020
• Yesterday was Human Rights Day and tomorrow is Universal Health Coverage Day. These two days coming so close together, at the end of this very difficult year, are a reminder that as we rebuild from this crisis, we must do so on the foundation of human rights – including the right to health.
• COVID-19 has triggered a deep global economic crisis that could have a long-lasting impact on health financing. The COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity for a ‘reset’ in countries with weak health financing systems.
• Prolonged school closures are presenting an unprecedented challenge to children’s education, health and well-being. Today WHO has released a new checklist to support schools in re-opening and in preparing for resurgences of COVID-19 and similar public health crises.
• The festive season is a time to relax and to celebrate – but we must not relax our guard. Celebration can very quickly turn to mourning if we fail to take the right precautions.
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
This week, vaccines against COVID-19 have started to be rolled out in the United Kingdom, and we expect more countries to follow.
To have safe and effective vaccines against a virus that was completely unknown to us only a year ago is an astounding scientific achievement.
But an even greater achievement would be to ensure all countries enjoy the benefits of science equitably.
WHO and our partners are focusing on three priorities:
First, we face an immediate funding gap of US$4.3 billion to procure vaccines for the most needy countries.
I urge donors to fill this gap quickly so that vaccines can be secured, lives can be saved and a truly global economic recovery is accelerated.
Second, we have worked hard to secure political commitment from world leaders for equitable access to vaccines, but we would like to see that commitment being translated into action.
And third, we are preparing countries to deliver vaccines by assessing gaps in infrastructure.
Already, almost 1 billion doses of three vaccine candidates have been secured as part of the COVAX Facility, and 189 countries and economies are now participating.
Our COVAX partner Gavi is in discussions with several other manufacturers and further deals will be announced in the near future.
Simultaneously, WHO is working with Gavi and UNICEF to evaluate the first set of requests received from countries who are eligible for assistance through the COVAX Facility.
Addressing the financing gap is an urgent priority.
On Monday, WHO and the European Commission are reconvening the Facilitation Council for the ACT Accelerator, with our Co-Chairs Norway and South Africa.
The Council will scrutinize our strategic priorities and a draft financing framework to close the ACT Accelerator’s financing gap for 2021.
This is crucial to ensuring all people everywhere are protected.
We have all seen images of people being vaccinated against COVID-19. We want to see these same images all over the world, and that will be a true sign of solidarity.
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Yesterday was Human Rights Day and tomorrow is Universal Health Coverage Day.
These two days coming so close together, at the end of this very difficult year, are a reminder that as we rebuild from this crisis, we must do so on the foundation of human rights – including the right to health.
2020 has reminded us that health is the most precious commodity on earth.
In the face of the pandemic, many countries have offered free testing and treatment for COVID-19, and promised free vaccination for their populations.
They have recognized that the ability to pay should not be the difference between sickness and health; between life and death.
This year, Universal Health Coverage Day takes on even more importance than usual.
Apart from the death and disease caused by the virus itself, millions of people have suffered and died as a result of disruption to essential health services.
This week, WHO is launching two initiatives to support and rapidly accelerate countries’ journey towards universal health coverage.
The first is a global programme to strengthen primary health care, better equipping countries to prevent and respond to emergencies of all kinds, from the personal crisis of a heart attack to an outbreak of a new and deadly virus.
The second is a new “UHC Compendium” designed to help countries develop the packages of services they need to meet their people’s health needs.
WHO is also launching a new report that provides the first analysis of how global health spending has changed during 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many governments have responded to the pandemic with exceptional budget allocations for their health systems, and even larger allocations for economic stabilization and social protection.
At the same time, COVID-19 has triggered a deep global economic crisis that could have a long-lasting impact on health financing.
Public revenues are declining, forcing many countries to take on additional debt, which will impact lower-income countries whose economies were vulnerable before COVID-19 struck.
The report warns that higher debt servicing could make it more difficult to maintain public spending on health.
But this is precisely the moment for investing in health.
The pandemic has demonstrated that health is not a luxury; it is the foundation of social, economic and political stability.
Indeed, today’s report highlights that the COVID-19 crisis provides an opportunity for a ‘reset’ in countries with weak health financing systems.
It makes six key recommendations for a new health financing compact.
To draw more attention to universal health coverage, we have also made it one of the main categories in the second WHO Health for All Film Festival.
We are inviting all film makers, whether professional or amateur, to submit short films focussing on access to quality care for any health need, by the 30th of January 2021.
Several hundred films have already been submitted.
The two other categories for the festival are health emergencies, in which we invite short films about COVID-19 and other humanitarian crises;
and better health and well-being, in which we invite films about climate change, pollution, sanitation, nutrition, gender issues and more.
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We know that although children are less at risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 than older adults, millions of children have suffered from the pandemic in other ways, including disruption to their education.
According to data collected by UNESCO, classrooms for nearly 1 in 5 schoolchildren globally – or 320 million – were closed as of the 1st of December, an increase of nearly 90 million in just one month.
In some places, children have been out of school for 9 months or more.
Prolonged school closures are presenting an unprecedented challenge to children’s education, health and well-being.
Today WHO has released a new checklist to support schools in re-opening and in preparing for resurgences of COVID-19 and similar public health crises.
It lists 38 essential actions to be considered by different stakeholders as they work together to agree school reopening plans.
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More than 66 million cases of COVID-19 and 1.5 million deaths have now been reported to WHO.
In the past six weeks the number of weekly deaths has increased by around 60%.
Most cases and deaths are in Europe and the Americas.
The festive season is a time to relax and to celebrate – but we must not relax our guard.
Celebration can very quickly turn to mourning if we fail to take the right precautions.
As you prepare to celebrate over the coming weeks, please consider your plans carefully.
If you live in an area with high transmission, please take every precaution to keep yourself and others safe.
That could be the best gift you could give – the gift of health, life love, joy and hope.
Thank you.

Source: World Health Organization

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