December 9, 2022

WHO chief calls on world to prepare for next pandemic, distribute vaccines equitably and thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting Omicron variant early, not punish them

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a special session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, November 29, 2021.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a special session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, November 29, 2021.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called on countries to prepare for the next pandemic, distribute vaccines equitably and thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting Omicron variant early, and not punish them.

He said rather than being punished for detecting the virus, “South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized.”

“Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” he said.

In remarks at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in the global architecture for pandemic preparedness and response.”

He said “global health security is too important to be left to chance, or goodwill, or shifting geopolitical currents, or the vested interests of companies and shareholders.”

“The best way we can address them is with a legally binding agreement between nations; an accord forged from the recognition that we have no future but a common future. Then surely – surely – the time has come for countries to agree on a common, binding approach to a common threat that we cannot fully control nor prevent – a threat that comes from our relationship with nature itself,” the WHO chief said.

He asserted that “the emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that in less than a year, almost 8 billion vaccines have been administered around the world – the largest vaccination campaign in history.

“But a year ago, as we began to see some countries striking bilateral deals with manufacturers, we warned that the poorest and most vulnerable would be trampled in the global stampede for vaccines,” he said. “More than 80% of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines.  But vaccine equity is not charity; it’s in every country’s best interests.”

The WHO chief calls on “every Member State to support the targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year. 103 countries still have not reached the 40% target, and more than half of them are at risk of missing it by the end of the year, simply because they cannot access the vaccines they need.”

He said the “WHO’s position remains that health workers, older people and other at-risk groups must be vaccinated first in all countries before those at low risk of serious disease, and before boosters are given to already-vaccinated healthy adults.”

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