WHO hosts first virtual executive board meeting amid COVID-19 pandemic

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday hosted its first ever virtual executive board meeting amid COVID-19 pandemic.

The executive board is composed of 34 technically qualified members elected for three-year terms. The main functions of the Board are to implement the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly and advise and generally facilitate its work.

The 147th session of the executive board (EB) is held as a virtual meeting to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The executive board’s meeting comes days after the first ever virtual World Health Assembly (WHA) earlier this week.

The session has been limited to one day and will take place Friday May 22 from 12 noon to 3 p.m. Geneva time. 

In his opening remarks on Friday, the WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted the organization’s work on COVID-19 in seven areas including leadership, analysis, communication, supplies, expertise, research and preparedness.

Read WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the Executive Board

22 May 2020

Dr Nakatani, Dr Vardhan, 

Distinguished members of the Executive Board, 

Welcome to this first virtual meeting of the WHO Executive Board.

I’d like to thank Dr Nakatani for his service as chair of the board over the past year — for his excellent leadership. Dr Nakatani, you are a true friend to WHO and a true servant of public health. Arigato gozaimasu.

And I’d like to congratulate and welcome Dr Harsh Vardhan on his election as the new chair. Namaste. Dr Harsh Vardhan, you have a tough act to follow but I’m sure you will do it with the same energy and commitment as Dr Nakatani. I was so happy to hear your opening remarks. I can see your readiness and commitment. Congratulations again, and I look forward to working with you very, very closely. 

I would like also to join you in paying homage to those who lost their lives, and also in appreciating our health workers who are saving lives while risking their lives. You said it in the best way. Thank you so much for your statement and the appreciation to the frontline health workers.

I would also like to welcome the new Vice-Chairs and Rapporteur, and the new members of the Executive Board, and I look forward to working with all of you.

As you know, this week we concluded an unusual but very important World Health Assembly.

Member States came together to pass a historic resolution on our collective response to COVID-19.

Today I’d like to take just a few minutes to summarize very briefly WHO’s work on COVID-19 in seven areas: leadership, analysis, communication, supplies, expertise, research and preparedness.

First, leadership.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has worked day and night to coordinate the global response at all three levels of the organization, providing technical advice, catalyzing political solidarity, mobilizing resources, coordinating logistics and much more.

In early February, WHO published our Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, giving countries specific and concrete measures to prevent, detect and respond to transmission of COVID-19.

We updated the plan earlier this month, with an estimate that WHO will require US$1.7 billion to fund our response to COVID-19 this year.

So far, almost US$800 million has been pledged or received, leaving a gap of just over US$900 million.

With the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, we launched the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which has so far raised more than US$214 million from more than 375,000 individuals, corporations and foundations. And thank you so much to all who have contributed.

Second, analysis.

Throughout the pandemic we have monitored, analysed and assessed trends and provided advice at the global, regional and country level. And we will continue to do so.

Third, communication.

We have developed risk communications tools for parents and children, health workers, employers, faith-based organizations, and more.

We have held more than 50 press briefings, and we’ve convened weekly Member State briefings to create a platform for countries to share experiences and ask questions.

And to fight the infodemic, we have worked with multiple tech partners, including Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Messenger, Pinterest, SnapChat, Tencent, TikTok, Twitter, Viber, WhatsApp, YouTube and more. I’d like to thank all these tech industries for their support in fighting the infodemic.

Fourth, supplies.

WHO has shipped millions of diagnostic tests and tons of personal protective equipment to more than 120 countries, and we will ship much more in the weeks ahead.

In Africa, WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention worked together to expand testing capacity for COVID-19 from just two countries to 44.

Fifth, expertise.

We published our first comprehensive package of guidance for COVID-19 on the 10th of January, and since then we have issued almost 100 technical documents. 

We have constantly updated and adapted that guidance to make it applicable in the local context.

We have also provided online training for more than 2.6 million health workers, with 10 courses in 25 languages through our OpenWHO.org training platform.

Sixth, research.

In early February, WHO convened more than 400 researchers from around the world to identify research priorities. 

We’re tracking more than 700 clinical trials globally, and in March we launched the Solidarity Trial, to generate data quickly about which treatments were the most effective.

More than 3000 patients have been enrolled in 17 countries.

Last month, WHO joined forces with President Macron, President Ursula von der Leyen and Melinda Gates to launch the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, to scale up the production, distribution and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Ten days later, the European Commission hosted a historic pledging event at which world leaders from more than 40 countries pledged US$8 billion for research into these life-saving tools.

Seventh, preparedness.

Since the first cases were reported, we have worked night and day to prepare countries to prevent, detect and respond rapidly to the arrival of cases.

In collaboration with the International Maritime Organization, the International Air Transport Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization, we’ve developed technical guidance for ports, airports and ground crossings. 

We have also established the COVID-19 Partners Platform, to match country needs with resources. So far, more than 125 countries are actively using the platform, and 50 donors have entered their contributions.

As you can see, WHO has been extremely active, and we will continue to do everything in our power to support countries, suppress transmission and save lives.

At the same time, we’re working to ensure our other work continues as much as possible.

From the beginning I asked our Deputy-Director-General, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, to continue focusing on leading our other work on universal health coverage and healthy populations, and I’m glad to report that so far the majority of that work is continuing as normal.

As you know, the world was already off-track for the “triple billion” targets and the Sustainable Development Goals, and there is no question that the pandemic threatens to set us back even further.

That makes our task even bigger and we must all redouble our efforts as a global community.

Once again, thank you all for your service and solidarity. I look forward to working with you to advance our shared mission to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.

I thank you.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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