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WHO Director-General opens address at COVID-19 media briefing – 17 May 2022 – World

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

In the last week, COVID-19 cases have risen in four of the six WHO regions.

With testing and sequencing being reduced in many countries, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know where the virus is and how it mutates.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has announced through its state media its first outbreak of COVID-19 since late April, with more than 1.4 million suspected cases.

The WHO is deeply concerned about the risk of further spread of COVID-19 in the country, particularly because the population is unvaccinated and has many underlying conditions that put them at risk of serious illness and death.

We are also concerned about Eritrea, another country that has not yet started vaccinating its population.

WHO has asked the DPRK to share data and information.

And the WHO has offered to provide a package of technical assistance and supplies, including diagnostic tests, essential medicines and vaccines, ready to be deployed in the country.

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After three years, I am delighted to meet many health leaders in person in Geneva on Sunday at the start of a very important World Health Assembly.

There is much to debate in the health sector and there are a number of crises that are fundamentally stretching health workers, resources and systems, putting lives, livelihoods and overall security at risk.

The pandemic is discussed, including how to end the emergency, including improved access to vaccines, antivirals and other life-saving supplies.

Last week I read President Biden’s announcement of health technology sharing between the US National Institutes of Health, the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and the Medicines Patent Pool regarding the development of innovative therapeutics, early-stage vaccines and diagnostic tools welcomes COVID-19.

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As you know, justice is one of the key principles behind the proposed deal on pandemic preparedness.

During this pandemic, we have faced many challenges including a lack of information sharing, a lack of biological materials, and a lack of technology, among others.

This hampered the response, cost lives and exposed the limits of global preparedness.

In order for the world to respond quickly and more effectively to the next outbreak or pandemic, the world needs to prepare now.

At the special session of the World Health Assembly in November 2021, all Member States agreed that COVID-19 reflects the need for all countries to share information and strengthen systems more effectively together.

WHO’s mission is to help countries – our Member States – negotiate and agree on an agreement to commit to protecting future generations from pandemics.

Our mandate is 100% determined by Member States and what they agree on.

The unification process is led by the member states with their own intergovernmental negotiating body (called INB) representing all regions of the world.

The INB has now started a two-year process that includes global public consultations with all stakeholders.

This represents the global opportunity to plan together, detect pathogens faster, share data widely, and collectively respond more effectively to the next Disease X or known pathogens.

Unfortunately, there is a small minority of groups that make misleading statements and intentionally distort facts.

I want to be crystal clear. The WHO agenda is public, open and transparent.

WHO is a strong advocate for individual rights.

We are passionate about everyone’s right to health and will do everything we can to ensure that this right is realized.

The very first World Health Assembly, held shortly after the WHO Constitution came into force in 1948, was a turning point in global public health.

And like the proposed pandemic preparedness accord, this did not mean WHO usurped the sovereignty of nations; In fact, it strengthened countries’ ability to fight disease together.

The WHO is an expression of the sovereignty of the Member States and the WHO is exactly what the sovereign 194 Member States expect from the WHO.

Each year, these sovereign governments come together at the World Health Assembly to set the health agenda for the world.

We cannot defeat pandemics individually; Our best chance is together.

The Assembly planted the seed for smallpox eradication in the last century, when countries agreed to work together to put the disease, smallpox, in the history books.

In 1988, the assembly agreed to focus on polio eradication. At that time there were 350,000 cases annually in more than 100 countries.

Last year we saw the lowest number of wild poliovirus cases, with only two countries still endemic.

Many people today have sight only because they were treated for river blindness.

And because of increasing access to antiretroviral drugs, 15 countries have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

All achievements stem from this founding treaty, which promoted the individual right to health and anchored those rights in a collective responsibility to work together to fight deadly diseases.

The world faces serious challenges with disrupted ecosystems, new conflicts and the climate crisis.

And that convergence requires a collective response, and agreement would be a crucial element of that.

WHO isn’t just fighting COVID-19: there’s an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an unknown hepatitis affecting children around the world, and monkeypox affecting a number of countries.

WHO is working with national authorities to respond to these outbreaks quickly and effectively.

The last few years have taught us our own collective fragility and the threat to the economy and security if we don’t work together.

The unification process is at the very beginning of a multi-year, member-led negotiation that will only be completed in 2024 after several public hearings around the world. And all voices are heard.

At the heart of the proposed deal on pandemic preparedness is to improve cooperation, coordination and sharing of data, information, biological materials and life-saving tools.

Fadela, back to you.

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