Source: World Health Organization (WHO) |

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's opening remarks at media briefing – 19 October 2022

While the global situation has obviously improved since the pandemic began, the virus continues to change, and there remain many risks and uncertainties

This is a health crisis for 6 million people, and the world is not paying enough attention

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 19, 2022/APO Group/ --

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. 

Last night I returned from the World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany, which this year WHO co-hosted for the first time.

I was very encouraged to see the level of commitment from leaders from government, civil society, academia and the private sector for addressing the most pressing global health challenges. 

There was strong support for the international accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response which countries are now negotiating.

And yesterday, governments and philanthropic donors collectively committed US$2.6 billion to work toward ending polio. 

Now to the Ebola outbreak in Uganda.

In total there have now been 60 confirmed and 20 probable cases, with 44 deaths, and 25 people have recovered.

We remain concerned that there may be more chains of transmission and more contacts than we know about in the affected communities. 

The Ministry of Health is investigating the most recent eight cases, as initial reports indicate they were not among known contacts.

In addition, two confirmed cases from the Mubende district sought care in the capital Kampala, increasing the risks of transmission in that city.

I’m pleased to see that the government has recognised that risk.

WHO and our partners are continuing to support the Government of Uganda to contain the outbreak and prevent it from spreading in more regions and countries.

Now to cholera.

Around the world, 29 countries have reported outbreaks this year, including 13 countries that did not have outbreaks last year. 

Cholera is highly dangerous and can kill within a day, but it can be prevented with two doses of safe and effective oral vaccines. 

Since 2013, WHO, UNICEF, Médecins sans Frontières and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have jointly managed a global stockpile of cholera vaccines to help control epidemics. 

However, the current wave of outbreaks is putting unprecedented pressure on the stockpile.

As a result, the four agencies have decided to suspend the two-dose strategy in favour of a one-dose strategy so that more people receive some protection from limited stocks. 

The one-dose strategy has proven effective in previous outbreaks, although evidence on how long protection lasts is limited.

However, this is clearly less than ideal and rationing must only be a temporary solution.

In the long-term we need a plan to scale up vaccine production as part of a holistic strategy to prevent and stop cholera outbreaks. 

In addition, the best way to prevent cholera outbreaks is to ensure people have access to safe water and sanitation.

Now to COVID-19.

Last week, the Emergency Committee on COVID-19 met to discuss the global situation and the way forward.

The committee’s view is that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency of international concern, and I agree.

The committee emphasised the need to strengthen surveillance and expand access to tests, treatments and vaccines for those most at-risk, and for all countries to update their national preparedness and response plans. 

While the global situation has obviously improved since the pandemic began, the virus continues to change, and there remain many risks and uncertainties.

This pandemic has surprised us before and very well could again. 

On monkeypox, the Emergency Committee will meet tomorrow to discuss the outbreak and make recommendations.

The number of reported cases globally has now dropped for eight weeks in a row, but as with COVID-19, risks and uncertainties remain, and some countries are still seeing increasing transmission.

I look forward to the Emergency Committee’s recommendations.

Finally, I’m running out of diplomatic language for the deliberate targeting of civilians in Tigray, Ethiopia. 

Earlier this week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that, I quote, “The situation in Ethiopia is spiralling out of control. The social fabric is being ripped apart and civilians are paying a horrific price. Hostilities in Tigray must end now – including the immediate withdrawal and disengagement of Eritrean armed forces from Ethiopia.” End of quote. 

The United Nations Human Rights Office has received reports of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects due to airstrikes and artillery strikes.

Indiscriminate attacks or attacks that deliberately target civilians or civilian objects amount to war crimes.

There is no other situation globally in which 6 million people have been kept under siege for almost two years.

Banking, fuel, food, electricity and health care are being used as weapons of war. Media is also not allowed and destruction of civilians is done in darkness. 

Even people who have money are starving because they can’t access it.

Children are dying every day from malnutrition. 

There are no services for tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes, hypertension and more – those diseases, which are treatable elsewhere, are now a death sentence in Tigray. 

Yes, I’m from Tigray, and yes, this affects me personally. I don’t pretend it doesn’t. Most of my relatives are in the most affected areas, more than 90% of them.

But my job is to draw the world’s attention to crises that threaten the health of people wherever they are.

This is a health crisis for 6 million people, and the world is not paying enough attention.

I urge the international community and the media to give this crisis the attention it deserves. 

There is a very narrow window now to prevent genocide in Tigray.

Margaret, back to you.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO).