On Friday, the UN health chief related that positive results from coronavirus vaccine tests mean the world can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic. However, he stated that rich and powerful nations should not trample the poor and marginalized in the stampede for vaccines.
During the UN General Assembly’s first high-level session about the pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, alerted that while it could stop the virus, the path ahead remains treacherous.
Tedros also said that the pandemic has shown humanity at its best and worst situation, indicating inspiring acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, breathtaking feats of science and innovation, and heartwarming demonstrations of solidarity, but also disturbing signs of self-interest, blame-shifting and divisions.
Concerning the current increase in infections and deaths, Tedros related without mentioning any countries that where science is drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substituted with self-interest, the virus thrives, the virus spreads. In a virtual address to the high-level meeting, Tedros cautioned that a vaccine would not address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root, poverty, hunger, inequality, and climate change, which he said must be dealt with once the pandemic ends.
He also said: We cannot and we must not go back to the same exploitative patterns of production and consumption, the same disregard for the planet that sustains all life, the same cycle of panic and meddling and the same divisive politics that fueled this pandemic.
Regarding the vaccines, Tedros said that the light at the end of the tunnel is growing steadily brighter, but vaccines must be shared equally as global public goods, not as private commodities that widen inequalities and become yet another reason some people are left behind.
He stated that the WHO’s ACT-Accelerator program to develop and distribute vaccines quickly is in danger of becoming no more than a noble gesture without major new funding.
Tedros declared that $4.3 billion is required immediately to lay the groundwork for mass procurement and delivery of vaccines and a further $23.9 billion is needed for 2021. He said that that total is less than one-half of 1 percent of the $11 trillion in stimulus packages declared until now by the Group of 20, the world’s richest countries.
At Thursday’s opening of the two-day General Assembly session, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, made a similar appeal for funding for the ACT-Accelerator. On his part, UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, reported on Friday that Guterres is frustrated and would have liked see a much higher rate of investment by those countries who can.
Otherwise, the head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, said: When poor countries started to try to buy vaccines, there were none available or the price was too high. She also said that UNICEF normally distributes 2 billion vaccine doses a year, and once it can get COVID-19 vaccines, we’re going to double that next year, so we need all hands on deck.
Moreover, US Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, said that three of the six vaccine candidates that the US government has supported have reported promising results and I have every reason to believe that more good news about vaccines and other countermeasures is on the way.
Besides, US President Donald Trump has officially notified the UN of its removal from WHO that he has severely criticized for its response to the pandemic and accused of bowing to Chinese influence.
Azar also criticized the lack of transparent information sharing about COVID-19 and WHO’s an investigation of the virus’s origin. However, he said that he wanted health ministers to know they can count on US cooperation to defeat the virus with no strings attached, and affirmed that the US is providing to countries combating the virus more funding, equipment, and support than any other nation.
Tedros also evoked that although years of warnings, several countries were unprepared for the pandemic and assumed their health systems would protect their people. He added that many countries that have done best dealing with the crisis had experience responding to the outbreaks of SARS, MERS, HINI, and other infectious diseases.
It should be noted that WHO has been severely criticized for not taking a stronger and more important role in handling the pandemic. Tedros said during the meeting that clearly, the global system for preparedness needs attention.
Tedros also related that a WHO commission was created in September is reviewing international health regulations. He said that WHO is also working with many countries on developing a pilot program in which countries agree to regular and transparent reviews of their health preparedness.
He declared that the pandemic also showed the need for a global system to share samples of viruses and other pathogens that cause disease to facilitate the development of medical counter-measures as global public goods, praising Switzerland’s offer to use a high-security laboratory to manage a new biobank.
Tedros also supported European Union chief Charles Michel’s proposal for an international treaty under which WHO would monitor the risks of emerging infectious diseases in animals for transmission to humans, ensure alerts of health risks, improve access to health care, and address financing needs. He said that this would provide the political underpinning for strengthening the global health sector.
Tedros also said that the world spends $7.5 trillion on health every year, almost 10 percent of global GDP; nevertheless, most of that money is spent in rich countries on treating disease rather than on promoting and protecting health, adding: We need a radical rethink on the way we view and value health.
He also states: If the world is to avoid another crisis on this scale, adding: Investments in basic public health functions, especially primary health care, are essential, and all roads should lead to universal health coverage with a strong foundation of primary health care.