I was greatly heartened by the global show of support demonstrated at the Global COVID-19 Summit hosted by the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, on Wednesday, 22 September 2021.
The leadership shown by President Biden is commendable and provides a much-needed boost to the global efforts to rapidly expand access to vaccines, scale up diagnostic testing and expand supplies of oxygen and other life-saving tools in all countries – especially the most vulnerable. Sustained high-level commitment is needed if we are going to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commitments made at the Summit offer the promise of reaching the targets that the World Health Organization and its partners have set to vaccinate 40 percent of the population of all countries by the end of 2021 and 70 percent by the middle of next year.
To reach this year’s target, we need 2 billion doses for low- and lower-middle-income countries now. To quote President Biden, “we can do this.”
But vaccines alone will not defeat the pandemic. The Summit also underscored the need for action on all fronts to rapidly scale up testing and sequencing, and access to oxygen, PPE and more. The Summit also included a discussion on the steps needed to prevent and better prepare for the next pandemic.
The following five actions, in particular, must be at the heart of the world’s common drive to keep people safe, serve the vulnerable and promote health:
- Meeting the #COVID-19 vaccines targets to, in turn, address vaccine inequity, which represents the greatest impediment to ending the pandemic.
- Fully and flexibly funding global needs to respond to the pandemic. This includes the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator to ensure access to vaccines, through COVAX, diagnostics, treatments and PPE to countries in need. Only 50 percent of the ACT-Accelerator’s funding needs have been pledged, and even less released. Fully financing this initiative for 2021 would require less than 0.1% of what governments have been spending on stimulus packages. In addition, the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan requires US$1 billion to support countries to implement these tools and the public health measures needed to respond to COVID-19. It’s particularly important that funders provide unearmarked and flexible support so resources can be used where, when and how they are needed to save lives.
- Financing for future emergencies to remedy the chronic underinvestment in health emergency preparedness and response as well as health systems resilience. WHO is committed to working with the process led by the G20 Presidency to create a board for health threats financing that will prepare the world for the next pandemic and others emergencies to come, and be linked with new financial mechanism to support needed strengthening. Such new platforms must not duplicate existing systems but strengthen – not further fracture – the global public health ecosystem. As I said at the Summit, we need a stronger, sustainably financed and empowered WHO at the centre of the global health architecture.
- A global commitment to preparedness and response in the form of an international agreement, compact or treaty that guarantees highest level political commitment for strengthening global collaboration on preventing and addressing pandemics and epidemics. This must be co-owned by all countries, rich and poor, big and small, not by a subset. It must ensure sharing of the materials needed to do this work, from financial resources and data, to vaccines, tests, treatments, other technologies and PPE. Nations of the world have the chance to breathe life into such a commitment at a Special Session of the World Health Assembly starting on 29 November.
- A concerted campaign to defeat misinformation and disinformation on all fronts of the COVID-19 response, from the safety of vaccines to public health measures that save lives. The relentless torrent of malicious and inaccurate information is a major driver of the continued potency of the pandemic.
I am grateful for the commitments made by leaders who joined this week’s summit.
But it is clear that commitments alone won’t save lives, stop transmission, immunize people, scale-up manufacturing capacity, and ready the world to prevent future health emergencies.
What is needed now – finally – is for commitments to turn into immediate actions to equitably end the pandemic.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO)