Last week, the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths was recorded since the early days of the pandemic.
However, some countries are still witnessing serious spikes in cases, which is putting pressure on hospitals.
And our ability to monitor trends is compromised as testing has significantly reduced.
This week, the COVID-19 IHR Emergency Committee met and unanimously agreed that the pandemic remains a public health emergency.
I appreciated their advice and agree that far from being the time to drop our guard, this is the moment to work even harder to save lives.
Specifically this means investing so that COVID-19 tools are equitably distributed and we simultaneously strengthen health systems as outlined in the 2022 WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.
Bridging the vaccine equity gap is the best way to boost population immunity and insulate against future waves.
But, it’s not just vaccines.
Over the past two years, WHO has continued to update its clinical management of COVID-19 guidelines and hone its recommendations based on the latest science.
Treatments including oxygen, corticosteroids and antivirals are helping to further break the link between COVID-19 infection and death.
Diagnostics are also improving and becoming more accessible.
However, just as I said last year that trickle down vaccination is not an effective strategy for fighting a deadly respiratory virus; trickle-down treatment and testing are similarly reckless.
Diagnosing at-risk patients early enough for new antivirals to be effective is essential and should be available to everyone, everywhere.
In addition, higher testing and sequencing rates will be vital for tracing existing and identifying new variants as they emerge.
WHO scientists continue to work with thousands of experts around the world to track and monitor the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
At present there are a number of Omicron sub-lineages we’re following closely, including BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 and another recombinant detected, made up of BA.1 and BA.2.
This virus has over time become more transmissible and it remains deadly especially for the unprotected and unvaccinated that don’t have access to health care and antivirals.
The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and boosted when recommended.
Continue wearing masks – especially in crowded indoor spaces. And for the indoors, keep the air fresh by opening windows and doors, and invest in good ventilation.
And just as we continue to respond to the current pandemic, WHO is preparing for the next.
I have spoken before about the need for a generational agreement that would ignite the investments, collaboration and engagement we need to protect our planet and our people.
Our Member States are currently negotiating this and WHO has opened up the conversation to the world through public hearings.
I am encouraged by the rich diversity of people from around the world that raised their voices at the public hearing of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), which is tasked with developing a new instrument to prepare the world for future health threats.
Everyone has been affected by this pandemic and every voice matters. There will be further opportunities to engage in the process throughout the year.
A new pandemic accord is our best collective defence against known virus’s and of course the next disease X.
Tomorrow marks 50 days since Russia invaded Ukraine.
In that time, 4.6 million refugees have left the country.
Thousands of civilians have died, including children.
There have been 119 verified attacks on health care.
Health services continue to be severely disrupted, particularly in the East of the country.
For the sake of humanity, I urge Russia to come back to the table and to work for peace.
In the meantime, humanitarian corridors must be established so that medical supplies, food and water can be delivered and civilians can move to safety.
To date, WHO has received almost 53% of its funding requirement for Ukraine for the first three months.
I would like to thank Canada, Ireland, Japan, Norway, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Switzerland and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund for their timely contributions.
I would also like to thank ECHO, Germany, Saudi Arabia KSRelief and the United States for committing additional support to the health response in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
But additional resources will be required to cover longer-term needs.
In Tigray, it is now three weeks since a truce was called.
After one of the longest blockades in history, there is a need for 100 trucks per day containing life saving supplies to Tigray.
Since the truce, there should have been at least 2,000 trucks going into Tigray.
But there has been only 20 trucks in total – representing one percent of the need.
In effect, the siege by the Ethiopian and Eritrean forces continues.
To avert the humanitarian calamity and hundreds of thousands more people from dying, we need unfettered humanitarian access from those reinforcing the siege.
As well as medicines, the immediate need is for food and fuel and other basics to be allowed into the region.
On World Health Day last week, I wrote about the multidimensional crisis that humanity is facing.
War, the climate crisis and COVID-19 are driving up food and fuel prices.
The Horn of Africa and Sahel are at high risk of famine and many people are already starving or food insecure and increasingly on the move.
I am deeply concerned about the impact this will have not only on health but on overall national and regional security.
Peace underscores our ability to make developmental progress on all fronts and conflict conversely makes it all harder.
Yesterday, WHO began the global roll out of an online training to increase understanding and promotion of the human rights and recovery of people living with mental health conditions.
The course, available in 11 languages, has been completed by nearly 30,000 people, and our goal is that by the end of 2024, that number will be 5 million.
There is no health without mental health.
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