As the world hailed news of a third COVID-19 vaccine the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) called on world economies to invest billions of dollars if the pandemic is to be beaten.
News of the US Moderna vaccine with a 94.5% success rate was announced yesterday with the crucial benefit that unlike the Pfizer vaccine it does not need to be transported and stored at extremely low temperatures.
However, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world could not reduce its efforts, adding there needed to be billions of dollars spent on the development of vaccines and the systems to distribute them across the planet in the next 12 months.
Speaking in Geneva, he said: “This is not the time for complacency.
“While we continue to receive encouraging news about COVID-19 vaccines and remain cautiously optimistic about the potential for new tools to start to arrive in the coming months.
“Right now we are extremely concerned by the surge in cases we’re seeing in some countries. Particularly in Europe and the Americas, health workers and health systems are being pushed to the breaking point.”
Dr Ghebreyesus revealed at present, the WHO has 150 emergency medical teams assisting countries in the planning and implementation of their emergency responses.
But the fight was far from over he explained.
“Health workers on the frontlines have been stretched for months,” warned Dr Ghebreyesus. “They are exhausted.
“We must do all we can to protect them, especially during this period when the virus is spiking and patients are filling hospital beds.
“In this moment when some governments have put all of society restrictions in place, there is once again a narrow window of time to strengthen key systems.
“We’ve seen that those countries which invested in case finding, care and isolation, cluster investigations, adequate testing with rapid results, contact tracing and supported quarantine are facing much less disruption.
“Cluster investigations and contract tracing are part of the bedrock of a successful public health response. These actions help prevent individual cases from becoming clusters, and clusters turning into community transmission.”
He said the world needed to step up its investment in the fight against the pandemic.
“As countries take extreme measures to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19, now is the time to invest in the systems that will prevent further waves of the virus,” urged Dr Ghebreyesus. “Invest in a well trained and protected public health work force so that you have enough contact tracers in place and ensure that those who are sick can isolate away from others and contacts are identified, notified and managed properly.
And where cases are starting to come down, keep investing so that you’re prepared.
“This is a dangerous virus, which can attack every system in the body. Those countries that are letting the virus run unchecked are playing with fire.”
He said effort had to be made to halt the spread of the virus to ensure that health workers are not put into a position where they have to make “impossible choices about who gets care and who doesn’t”.
“There is no excuse for inaction. My message is very clear: act fast, act now, act decisively,” he added. “A laissez-faire attitude to the virus – not using the full range of tools available – leads to death, suffering and hurts livelihoods and economies.
“It’s not a choice between lives or livelihoods. The quickest way to open up economies is to defeat the virus.”
Dr Ghebreyesus added that the time for greater investment was now, adding that failing to do so would be a false economy for countries across the world.
The WHO has played a key role in the creation of the ACT Accelerator designed to create a unified response to the virus and ensure equitable access to new rapid tests, therapeutics and COVID-19 vaccines.
The European Commission, France, Spain, The Republic of Korea and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged US$360 million to COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the ACT Accelerator. The contributions bring the total committed to $5.1 billion.
“This is very substantial,” said Dr Ghebreyesus. “but to ensure that tools are rolled out quickly across the world so that we save lives, stabilize health systems and drive a truly global recovery, another $4.2 billion needed urgently and a further $23.9 billion will be required in 2021.
“With countries spending trillions to prop up economies, COVAX represents the best possible deal as it will mean a quicker recovery for all and an end to stimulus.”
He called in the G20 leaders to commit to greater funding at their meeting later this week,
“This is an opportunity for them to commit financially and politically to the ACT Accelerator and COVAX so that together we can end this pandemic quickly.
It’s also a moment for us to strive for the world we want. This cannot be business as usual.
“The time has come for a fundamental shift toward health being seen as an investment, rather than a cost, and the foundation of productive, resilient and stable economies. Health is central.”
Dr Ghebreyesus added: “Health like the climate crisis, inequality and conflict cannot be tackled in silos.
“A new collective way forward is needed to ensure that we deliver on the promises of the past and tackle these intertwined challenges together. “