25.05.2021, 09:24

WHO chief wants 10 percent of world s population given Covid 19 vaccines by September

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday called for a huge global effort to ensure that 10 percent of the population in every country is vaccinated against Covid-19 by September.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo South China Morning Post

The WHO chief called for a "massive push to vaccinate at least 10 percent of the population of every country by September", in a speech at the opening of the UN health agency's main annual assembly, AFP reported.

He said more than 75 percent of all vaccines had been administered in just 10 countries.

"There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world."

The COVAX facility, run by WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance, has delivered 72 million vaccine doses to 125 countries and economies since February - barely sufficient for 1 percent of their populations, Tedros said.

He urged countries to donate vaccine doses to COVAX to enable 10 percent of the populations of all countries to be inoculated by September and 30 percent by year-end. This meant vaccinating 250 million more people in just four months.

COVAX facility has delivered 72 million vaccine doses to 1 percent of the world's population. Photo CNN

The Covid-19 pandemic is being perpetuated by a "scandalous inequity" in vaccine distribution, he said, warneing that no country should assume that it's "out of the woods", no matter its vaccination rate, as long as the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants spread elsewhere.

"The world remains in a very dangerous situation," Tedros told the opening of the annual assembly of health ministers from its 194 member states.

"As of today, more cases have been reported so far this year than in the whole of 2020. On current trends, the number of deaths will overtake last year's total within the next three weeks. This is very tragic," he said.

At least 115,000 health and care workers have died from Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, he added, calling for a dramatic scale-up of vaccination in all countries.

"For almost 18 months, health and care workers all over the world have stood in the breach between life and death," he said.

"They have saved countless lives and fought for others who, despite their best efforts, slipped away.

"Many have themselves become infected, and while reporting is scant, we estimate that at least 115,000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price in the service of others."

He said many health workers have since the start of the crisis felt "frustrated, helpless and unprotected, with a lack of access to personal protective equipment and vaccines."

And they are not alone. He described the overall inequity in access to vaccines as "scandalous", warning it was "perpetuating the pandemic."

A number of mainly European countries are calling for significant strengthening of the WHO, which has been pushed to the brink by Covid. They want to boost its independence, flexibility and funding.

The World Health Organization on Monday kicked off the main annual gathering of its 194 member states with all eyes on the global response to Covid-19 - and what concrete steps can be taken to avert future pandemics.

Vaccine sharing, strengthening the WHO and adopting a pandemic treaty were among proposals from world leaders on how to halt the Covid-19 pandemic and prevent future health catastrophes.

Photo taken in Brussels, Belgium on Monday, shows the live stream of the 74th World Health Assembly held at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo Xinhua

"We are at war with a virus," United Nations chief Antonio Guterres told the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA).

"We need the logic and urgency of a war economy, to boost the capacity of our weapons," he said.

The WHO "must be the heart, the compass, of our global health approach," French President Emmanuel Macron told the assembly.

"This organisation must be robust in times of crisis, it must be flexible enough to react to emergencies," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meanwhile said "the priority must be to enable the world to respond to a pandemic threat as rapidly as possible," and voiced support for the creation of a global health threats council./.

Rosemary Nguyen