3 March 2023
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,
Yesterday I returned from my visit to Türkiye and the Syrian Arab Republic.
I was deeply shocked and saddened by the devastation and suffering I saw and heard.
In the Hatay province of Türkiye, almost every building has either collapsed, or is leaning dangerously.
I imagined how terrifying that morning must have been, in the pitch black, the rain and snow, and the awful noise of buildings collapsing and people screaming.
I visited a camp for displaced people, where I met a 67-year-old woman who was trapped under the rubble for three hours before she was rescued.
Her husband was not as fortunate. Her daughter is in hospital and may have to have a leg amputated.
She said she did not know what she will do next.
The suffering is impossible to describe in words or even in pictures. Nothing can convey the depth of grief and loss so many people are feeling.
The destruction is immense; but so is the response of the Turkish government.
During the first two weeks, more than 55,000 people needing care were transported to hospitals all over Türkiye in any way possible – by helicopter, ambulance, and car.
Since the first day, the Minister of Health has been leading the response on the ground in the most affected areas.
The entire Ministry of Health has relocated to the affected zones, and is living in tents, containers and cars, side-by-side with health workers and other responders.
I was so impressed by the dedication and hard work of health workers, both in Türkiye and the Syrian Arab Republic.
The kind of suffering caused by the earthquake on both sides is similar.
But the risks now being faced by people on the Syrian side are far higher than those living just a few kilometres away on the Turkish side.
The challenges health workers are facing are similar on both sides, but on the Syrian side they are facing them with far fewer resources.
Twelve years of war has destroyed infrastructure, homes and hope.
Drought, economic collapse, the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing cholera outbreak have heaped misery upon misery.
Even before the earthquake, more than 90% of the Syrian people were living in poverty.
The NGOs in the north-west of the Syrian Arab Republic welcomed my visit, but expressed their disappointment that I was the first high-level UN official to visit since the beginning of the war.
In Idlib Governate, I met a 15-year-old boy who broke both his arms when he jumped out of a window during the earthquake. He hasn’t been to school since he was nine years old, because of the conflict.
I visited a reception centre where hundreds of people are living with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they escaped their homes.
People showed me pictures of the children they had lost.
The children who were there were dirty and hadn’t eaten that day. There is nothing for them to do. No toys, no games, no schooling.
For the past decade, WHO has been providing about one-third of medicines in opposition-controlled areas in the north-west of the Syrian Arab Republic. That has now risen to two thirds.
On the day of the earthquake, we were able to release supplies quickly from our local warehouses.
So far, we have distributed more than 200 tonnes of aid to health facilities in north-west Syria, and we continue to deliver as much aid as we can in any way we can, whether across borders or across lines of conflict.
The Syrian people have suffered more than most people ever will, or ever could. They have endured and they have shown great resilience in the face of it.
Their needs, dreams and hopes are the same as all people:
For health, food, water, shelter and peace. For a better future for their children.
I call on the international community to dig deep to lift up those in Türkiye and the Syrian Arab Republic, in two ways.
First, for humanitarian support for both countries, and to support a political solution to establish a lasting peace in the Syrian Arab Republic.
At the same time, I call on the leaders of all sides of the Syrian conflict to use the shared suffering of this crisis as a platform for peace; as an opportunity to make peace.
12 years of war has delivered nothing but division and the destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s proud history and rich culture.
If anything good could come of this suffering, it must be peace.
Over the past few days there has been renewed attention on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we have said before, if any country has information about the origins of the pandemic, it is essential for that information to be shared with WHO and the international scientific community – not so as to apportion blame, but to advance our understanding of how this pandemic started, so we can prevent, prepare for and respond to future epidemics and pandemics.
I wish to be very clear that WHO has not abandoned any plans to identify the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to recent media reports and comments by politicians.
In 2021, WHO established the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO.
In its report last year, SAGO identified key studies that must be done in China and elsewhere to verify or eliminate the various hypotheses for the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO continues to call for China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results. To that effect, I have written to, and spoken with, high-level Chinese leaders on multiple occasions, as recently as just a few weeks ago.
Until then, all hypotheses on the origins of the virus remain on the table.
At the same time, the continued politicisation of the origins research has turned what should be a purely scientific process into a geopolitical football, which only makes the task of identifying the origins more difficult.
And that makes the world less safe.
Understanding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic remains a scientific imperative, to inform measures to prevent future epidemics and pandemics, and a moral imperative, for the sake of the millions of people and their families who have lost their lives to COVID-19, and those who continue to live with post-COVID-19 condition.
Today, WHO is launching a new policy on preventing and addressing all forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.
Following allegations of sexual misconduct by WHO employees during the 10th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2020, I appointed an Independent Commission to investigate the allegations, and to make recommendations on reforming WHO’s policies, procedures and practices.
Since the Commission delivered its report in 2021, WHO has worked hard at implementing its recommendations.
This new policy builds on our achievements so far, and addresses gaps identified by reviews of the previous policy.
It puts victims and survivors at the centre of our approach, and applies to all WHO staff, collaborators and members of the public in places where WHO and our partners work.
The new policy is an important step on our journey to becoming an organization where “zero tolerance” is the reality, and not just a slogan.
Finally, next Wednesday marks International Women’s Day.
Over the past 20 years, the world has made significant gains in the health of women and girls.
Maternal mortality has decreased by one-third.
And yet 800 women still die each day due to preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
These risks are increased by teen pregnancy, which affects more than 20 million girls every year.
And while women make up 70% of the health workforce globally, on average they earn one-quarter less than their male colleagues, and occupy only one in four global health leadership roles.
WHO is committed to addressing the root causes of disparities in women’s and girl’s health, and to making the health sector a driving force for a healthier, safer, fairer world for all women and girls.
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