WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 20 April 2020
Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
First of all, I would like to wish all who have celebrated Orthodox Easter yesterday Happy Easter, including my own country Ethiopia.
Today is the first day our press conferences are being interpreted in all official United Nations languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish, and soon we will start Swahili and Hindi. We would like to make our UN truly UN, truly multilateral by including more languages and communicating with the whole world.
I’d like to welcome all journalists from around the world, and I invite you to ask questions in any of the six UN languages – for the time being of course, and we will keep opening up more languages.
I’d like to start by thanking the many musicians, comedians and humanitarians who made Saturday’s “One World, Together at Home” concert an enormous success. So humbled, and the whole WHO community is very grateful for the support that poured over 8 hours.
WHO is proud to have co-organized this event with Global Citizen, my brother Hugh Evans and Lady Gaga, and I also want to thank my colleague Paul Garwood who came up with the idea and has worked incredibly hard for several weeks to make it happen.
Paul Garwood is one of our colleagues in the front line. I ask my colleagues to give me crazy ideas, and he did. But as a boss I take all the credit and I shouldn’t do that. All the credit goes to my colleague Paul Garwood from our communications department. I hope all my staff will continue to give me crazy ideas. I’m proud to be WHO – very, very proud.
The event raised more than US$127 million to support several organizations responding to COVID-19, including US$55 million for WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund.
The fund has now raised more than 194 million dollars from more than 270,000 individuals, corporations and foundations.
Yesterday I had the honour of addressing health ministers from the G20 countries.
I appreciate the expressions of support from many countries for WHO’s coordinating role and our technical guidance.
I also appreciate the statements of the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement expressing their strong support for WHO.
As you know, the G77 – 133 countries and the Non-Aligned Movement, 120 countries. This is a big vote of confidence, and we thank NAM and we thank the G77 countries.
WHO’s commitment is to science, solutions and solidarity.
Our commitment is to supporting all countries to save lives. That’s it, that’s our intention. That’s what we’re for: saving lives.
We’ve spoken previously about the factors countries must consider as they plan to start lifting so-called lockdown restrictions.
We want to re-emphasize that easing restrictions is not the end of the epidemic in any country.
Ending the epidemic will require a sustained effort on the part of individuals, communities and governments to continue suppressing and controlling this deadly virus.
So-called lockdowns can help to take the heat out of a country’s epidemic, but they cannot end it alone.
Countries must now ensure they can detect, test, isolate and care for every case, and trace every contact.
We welcome the accelerated development and validation of tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies, which are helping us to understand the extent of infection in the population.
WHO is providing technical, scientific and financial support for the rollout of sero-epidemiologic surveys across the world.
Early data from some of these studies suggest that a relatively small percentage of the population may have been infected, even in heavily affected areas – not more than 2 to 3 percent.
While antibody tests are important for knowing who has been infected, tests that find the virus are a core tool for active case finding, diagnosis, isolation and treatment.
One of WHO’s priorities is to work with partners to increase the production and equitable distribution of diagnostics to the countries that need them most.
To achieve that, WHO has worked with FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative, to identify and validate five tests that can be manufactured in large quantities.
Working together with the Global Fund, UNICEF and Unitaid, we have now placed orders for 30 million tests over the next four months.
The first shipments of these tests will begin next week, through the United Nations Supply Chain we have established with the World Food Programme and other partners.
Solidarity flights continue to ship lifesaving medical supplies across Africa to protect health workers, who are on the frontlines in the effort to save lives and slow the pandemic.
Over the past week, WHO has been working closely with the World Food Programme to deliver masks, goggles, test kits, face shields and other medical equipment to 40 countries.
This is part of the overarching drive to keep supply chains moving and ensure key supplies reach 120 priority countries.
Through April and May we intend to ship almost 180 million surgical masks, 54 million N95 masks and more than 3 million protective goggles to countries that need them most.
I also want to highlight the Jack Ma Foundation’s donation of 100 million masks, 1 million N95 masks and 1 million test kits to WHO.
We had a very productive discussion with Jack Ma yesterday and he would like to continue to support countries in need.
We are also continuing to lead research and development efforts.
So far, more than 100 countries have joined the Solidarity Trial to evaluate therapeutics for COVID-19, and 1200 patients have been randomized from the first 5 countries.
This week, we expect that more than 600 hospitals will be ready to start enrolling patients.
The faster we recruit patients, the faster we will get results.
Finally, yesterday marked one year since our colleague Dr Richard Mouzoko from Cameroon was killed while working on the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
After 54 days without a case, there have now been six cases of Ebola in the past 10 days. We are continuing to work hard with our partners to support the government to ensure that this spark does not become a larger fire.
Unfortunately, Richard is one of many health workers who have lost their lives in the line of duty globally in the past year.
Some have died in attacks on health facilities, some have lost their lives to COVID-19.
I would like to use this opportunity to pay tribute to Richard’s family and also to Cameroon.
I would like to also pay tribute to every health worker.
We salute you. And we are committed to supporting you. We don’t take your commitment and heroism for granted. Thank you for saving lives, and for putting your lives at risk.
There is nothing more blessed than what you’re doing. Please keep doing what you’re doing.
From WHO, you have the greatest respect and appreciation.
I thank you.