In its first briefing in 2022 WHO Chieftain Tedros Ghebreyesus reiterated his long-standing call for justice and solidarity on vaccines to tackle the third year of crisis.
“The arrival of the new year provides an opportunity to renew our collective response to a common threat,” he said, speaking from Geneva.
“I hope that world leaders who have shown such determination to protect their populations will spread that determination to ensure the security and protection of the entire world.”
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WHO is set to publish its latest weekly epidemiological report on COVID-19 on Thursday.
This shows that the number of cases has increased globally by 71 percent in the past seven daysaccording to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical director of the COVID-19 agency, who spoke at a later briefing.
During this period, about 9.5 million cases it was reported, “and we know this is an underestimate,” she said, adding that “next week will be higher because more than 2.2 million cases have been reported in the last 24 hours.”
Tedros called inequalities in vaccines “a killer of people and jobs,” which is also undermining the global economic recovery. Low vaccination rates have also created ideal conditions for the emergence of variants of the virus.
He said the “tsunami” of Omicron cases shook health systems around the world.
“While Omicron does look less severe compared to Delta, especially in vaccinated individuals, this does not mean that it should be categorized as ‘mild’,” he warned.
While first-generation vaccines cannot stop all COVID-19 infections and transmission, Tedros stressed that they remain highly effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths.
Do not hold out
WHO is urging countries to vaccinate 70 percent of the population by mid-2022. Tedros warned that at the current pace, about 109 countries may not meet this goal.
“The crux of the difference is that some countries are moving to vaccinate their citizens for the fourth time, while others do not even have enough regular vaccinations to vaccinate their healthcare providers and those at greatest risk,” he said.
“Missile after missile in a small number of countries will not end the pandemic while billions of people remain completely unprotected.”
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The world can end the injustice around vaccines by effectively dividing the doses produced, he said.
“Second, let’s take a ‘never again’ approach to pandemic preparedness and vaccine production so that once the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines becomes available, they are produced fairly and countries don’t have to beg for scarce resources,” he advised.
For its part, WHO will continue to invest in vaccine manufacturing centers and will work with any manufacturer willing to share know-how, technology and licenses.
Tedros was encouraged by some vaccines currently undergoing trials, with manufacturers already committed to waiving patents and sharing licenses, technology and know-how.
He also called for investments in public health and health systems, including to ensure strict supervision and adequate testing, and to support and protect workers.
The WHO chief also called on people around the world to demand that governments and pharmaceutical companies share health tools around the world to end the pandemic.
© UNICEF / Syed Bidel
Responding to crises
According to Tedros, there is no place more loyal than in countries or regions experiencing humanitarian crises and conflict zones.
WHO is in these locations, delivering aid and supplies to people.
V Afghanistan, he said that until recently, more than three-quarters of health facilities reported a shortage of essential drugs, with the threat of retention of health workers at work.
As of December, more than 2,300 health facilities have received new supplies. In addition, 25,000 health workers have been paid to support 96% of the country’s health system, thanks to a collaborative effort between WHO and its sister agency, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In the war-torn northern EthiopiaLast month, WHO shipped about 14 tons of medical supplies to Afar and another 70 tons to Amhara.
However, since mid-July, the agency has been prevented from delivering goods to the crisis-hit region of Tigray, despite repeated requests.
Tedros noted that “the de facto blockade prevents access to humanitarian goods, resulting in loss of life.”