This Wednesday is World TB Day.
In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe disruption to services for many diseases, including tuberculosis.
An estimated 1.4 million fewer people received care for TB in 2020 compared with 2019, and we fear that more than half a million more people may have died.
TB is preventable and treatable, but remains one of the world’s top infectious killers because too many people go undiagnosed.
Improved screening is essential to rapidly identify people with TB infection or disease, and connect them with care.
New guidance from WHO aims to help countries identify groups at highest risk of TB, so people can receive services for prevention and treatment.
In January, I said that the world was on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure unless urgent steps were taken to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines.
We have the means to avert this failure, but it’s shocking how little has been done to avert it.
The gap between the number of vaccines administered in rich countries, and the number of vaccines administered through COVAX is growing every single day, and becoming more grotesque every day.
Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries.
The world’s poorest countries wonder whether rich countries really mean what they say when they talk about solidarity.
The inequitable distribution of vaccines is not just a moral outrage. It’s also economically and epidemiologically self-defeating.
Some countries are racing to vaccinate their entire populations while other countries have nothing. This may buy short-term security, but it’s a false sense of security.
The more transmission, the more variants. And the more variants that emerge, the more likely it is that they will evade vaccines.
And as long as the virus continues to circulate anywhere, people will continue to die, trade and travel will continue to be disrupted, and the economic recovery will be further delayed.
On Friday, WHO hosted a meeting of more than 800 experts on enhancing genomic sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus globally, to improve the monitoring of its evolution.
Knowing when, how and where the virus is evolving is vital information.
But it’s of limited use if countries do not work together to suppress transmission everywhere at the same time.
If countries won’t share vaccines for the right reasons, we appeal to them to do it out of self-interest.
There are some countries that have set a great example. The Republic of Korea, despite being a high-income country that could easily afford to buy vaccines through bilateral deals, has waited its turn for vaccines through COVAX.
WHO is continuing to work day and night to find solutions to increase the production and equitable distribution of vaccines.
I have had conversations with leaders from high-income countries that have many times more doses than they need, asking them to share doses through COVAX.
I’ve had conversations with leaders from lower-income countries, whose economies are suffering and who are asking when they will get vaccines.
And I’ve had conversations with executives from vaccine manufacturers about how to ramp up production.
Recently, for example, I spoke to the CEO of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, about the shared challenges we face in ramping up production and rolling out vaccines.
So far, AstraZeneca is the only company that has committed to not profiting from its COVID-19 vaccine during the pandemic.
And so far, it’s the only vaccine developer that has made a significant contribution to vaccine equity, by licensing its technology to several other companies, including SK Bio in the Republic of Korea and the Serum Institute of India, which are producing more than 90% of the vaccines that have so far been distributed through COVAX.
We need more vaccine producers to follow this example and license their technology to other companies.
A year ago, Costa Rica and WHO launched the mechanism to do this, the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, which promotes an open-science model, where licensing would occur in a non-exclusive, transparent manner to leverage as much manufacturing capacity as possible.
So far, C-TAP remains a highly promising but under-utilized tool.
WHO and our partners can design and advocate for solutions. But we need all countries and all manufacturers to work with us to make them happen.
On Friday, WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety concluded that the available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions following administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Today, AstraZeneca announced positive results from a trial of the vaccine among more than 32 thousand people in Chile, Peru and the United States.
The vaccine was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death. No safety concerns were reported.
These data are further evidence that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective.
Finally, I’m pleased to announce that a shortlist has now been selected from 1200 entries for the WHO Health for All Film Festival.
The films are available on the WHO YouTube channel, and between now and the 10th of May we are inviting members of the public to watch them and make comments.
Our expert jury will select six winners in different categories, with the prizes to be awarded on the 13th of May, before our World Health Assembly.