June 12, 2024

WHO chief sounds the alarm as COVID-19 cases increase nearly 30 percent in just two weeks with BA.4 and BA.5 driving new waves in the U.S. and Europe

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanmon Ghebreyesus speaks during the Strategic Roundtable discussion "A Healthy Return: investing in a sustainably financed WHO" on 23 May 2022 at the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. Expert reports have highlighted the mismatch between what the world needs from WHO and, in particular, its role leading the multilateral response to health emergencies, and the way it is currently funded. In January 2021 the Working Group on Sustainable Financing was set up to look afresh at the issue and it makes substantive recommendations in a report to be discussed at this Assembly. The discussion included the formal launch of ‘A Healthy Return: investing in a sustainably financed WHO’, the new WHO investment case. It also spotlighted the Results Report 2020-2021 ‘For a Safer, Healthier and Fairer world’ as an example of the commitment of the Secretariat to enhanced accountability, transparency and reporting on results. https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2022/05/23/default-calendar/strategic-roundtables-seventy-fifth-world-health-assembly

The World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus once again sounded the alarm on Wednesday, warning at his weekly press conference that in the past two weeks alone, reported cases of COVID-19 have increased by nearly 30 percent.

“Four out of six of the WHO sub-regions saw cases increase in the last week,” he said. “In Europe and America, BA.4 and BA.5 are driving waves. In countries like India a new sub lineage of BA.2.75 has also been detected.”

Dr. Ghebreyesus said compounding the challenge is a number of factors, including testing that has reduced dramatically in many countries, obscuring the true picture of an evolving virus and the real burden of COVID-19 disease globally.

This means that treatments are not given early enough to prevent serious illness and/or death, he said, adding that “new treatments, especially promising new oral antivirals, are still not reaching low- and low-middle income countries, depriving whole populations that need them.”

Other factors affecting the fight against COVID-19, he said, are that, “as the virus evolves, vaccines protection – while still really effective at preventing serious disease and death – does wane.”

“Decreasing immunity underscores the importance of boosters, especially for the most at-risk,” he said, adding that “each wave of the virus leaves more people with long-COVID or post-COVID condition.”

“This obviously impacts individuals and their families but it also puts an extra burden on health systems, the wider economy and society-at-large. These challenges require action at a global, national and local level,” he said.

According to the WHO chief, governments, scientists, manufacturers, WHO and citizens themselves all have their part to play.  

Essential steps to take include vaccinating and boosting those at most risk. This includes older people, people with chronic illnesses, the immunocompromised and health workers. This helps build up the wall of immunity throughout the population.

Dr. Ghebreyesus said oral antivirals and other treatments should also be made available to all.

“Working with Global Fund and UNICEF, WHO has developed an allocation mechanism to support countries as antivirals become available. So far, 20 countries have accepted allocations of Molnupiravir, which has moved into distribution. For Nirmatrelvir-Ritonavir, – or Paxlovid – 43 countries have expressed interest. However, our organizations are still trying to finalize with Pfizer the appropriate terms and conditions for low- and middle-income countries,” he said. “This is delaying access and some countries may choose to wait for a generic version of the antiviral, probably available only early 2023 and this will cost lives.”

The WHO chief called on pharmaceutical firm Pfizer to work closely with health agencies and countries to ensure its new oral antiviral is available quickly and effectively.”

Read what Tedros said about monkeypox

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On monkeypox, I continue to be concerned by the scale and spread of the virus. 

Across the world, there has now been more than 6000 cases recorded in 58 countries.

Testing remains a challenge and it’s highly probable that there are a significant number of cases not being picked up.

Europe is the current epicentre of the outbreak, recording more than 80 percent of cases globally.

In Africa, cases are appearing in countries not previously affected and record numbers are being recorded in places which have previous experience with monkeypox.

My teams are following the data closely, I plan to reconvene the Emergency Committee so they are updated on the current epidemiology and evolution of the outbreak, and implementation of counter measures.

I will bring them together during the week of 18 July or sooner if needed.

WHO is working with countries and vaccine manufacturers to coordinate the sharing of vaccine, which are currently scarce and need to be accessible to the most at risk people.

WHO is also working closely with civil society and LGBTIQ+ community, especially to break the stigma around the virus and spread information so people can protect themselves. 

I want to particularly commend those that are sharing videos online via social media channels talking about their symptoms and experiences with monkeypox.

This is a positive way to break down the stigma about a virus that can affect anyone.

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Finally, in Syria, the humanitarian needs are at their highest level since the war started 11 years ago.  

WHO works across the country to provide lifesaving health support. 

In the northwest of the country, some 4.4 million people, including more than 3.5 million women and children, are in need of humanitarian assistance. 

They depend on the cross-border access for their healthcare, their vaccines and medicines. 

We hope the Security Council will continue to find agreement to preserve the health and welfare of this highly vulnerable population.

I thank you, and Tarik back to you.

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