The World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a joint press briefing in Washington D.C. on Thursday with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra praised the United States and President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for their efforts and contributions to beat COVID-19 around the world, including in Africa, but acknowledged that several other challenges remain, including in Ukraine where Russia’s invasion has displaced millions of people, and in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where government forces are preventing full humanitarian access.
The WHO chief described the blockade in the Tigray region, which has lasted over 500 days, as the longest and worst in modern human history, asserting that atrocities and massacres were being committed regularly, with some people being “burned alive” because of their ethnicity. The catastrophic siege, he said, was being enforced by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces.
The WHO chief, who is from Tigray, said he has not spoken to his relatives in the region for more than 500 days because telecommunication is non existent. He acknowledged that the international community was taking steps to ending the crisis but added that “it’s not enough.”
He argued that while the attention of the international community should be focused on Ukraine because of the atrocities being committed there by Russian forces against civilians, a fraction of that attention should be directed to Tigray, because “the situation is getting worse, and people are being burned alive.”
He welcomed the delivery of 20 trucks with aid into Tigray ten days ago, but argued that the recent aid does not cover one percent of Tigray’s needs.
Visit to the United States
Mr. Ghebreyesus, who accompanied by other members of the Geneva-based WHO leadership, including the Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program Dr. Michael Ryan and Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead COVID-19 response at the WHO, briefed newsmen following what he described as “very productive meetings with representatives of the (Biden) administration, senators, house members and other leaders,” in the United States.
“We discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and WHO’s five major priorities for the next five years, including supporting countries to make a paradigm shift towards promoting health and preventing disease, not just treating it; radically reorienting health systems towards primary health care; strengthening global capacities for pandemic preparedness and response; harnessing the power of science, research, innovation, data and digital technologies for health; and continuing to strengthen WHO as the leading and directing authority on global health,” he said.
Dr. Ghebreyesus said World Health Day (which is celebrated every April 7) marks the day that the Constitution of the World Health Organization came into effect, on April 7, 1948.
He praised the United States, asserting that “although our headquarters are in Switzerland, in one way, WHO was born here in the United States.”
He said, “It was in 1945, during the Conference to establish the United Nations in San Francisco, that the idea of an international health organization was first proposed. And at the International Health Conference in New York City the following year, the Constitution of the World Health Organization was adopted by 51 Members of the UN, including the United States. For the past 75 years, the United States has been a strong partner in global health.
“The US played a pivotal role in eradicating smallpox – which remains one of the greatest achievements in the history of global health.
“The US has continued to be a leader in global health, through PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, as well as its support for the response to malaria, TB, polio and many other diseases. The US has also been a strong supporter of WHO’s work to respond to health emergencies, including the war in Ukraine.
“With support from the United States, WHO is working with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health to keep the country’s health system running, and we’re working with neighbouring countries to support access to care for refugees.
“WHO and our partners have so far delivered more than 180 metric tonnes of medical supplies to the hardest hit areas in Ukraine, and we are preparing to deliver more. We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing.
“Today, on the 42nd day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, we crossed a grim milestone of more than 100 attacks – as of now, WHO has verified 103 incidents of attacks on health care, with 73 people killed and 51 injured, including health workers and patients.
“Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law.
“Peace is the only way forward. I again call on the Russian Federation to stop the war.”