From Our Bureau                                                            

13TH AUGUST 2020               

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic situation remained grim globally, with the confirmed cases across the world soaring to 2,04,39,814 and the death toll rising to  7,44,385 in the 216 affected countries and territories, according to the latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, American region continued to be the worst-hit with 1,09,50,220 confirmed cases and 3,98,229 deaths. Europe came next with 36,68,652 confirmed cases and 2,18,255 deaths. South-East Asia region’s tally stood at 28,30,404 confirmed cases and 56,636 deaths.

Eastern Mediterranean region reported 16,83,511 confirmed cases and 44,661 deaths. African region registered 9,16,644 confirmed cases and 17,557 deaths. Western Pacific region recorded 3,89,642 confirmed cases and 9,034 deaths. WHO Risk Assessment at global level remained very high.

There have been notable achievements made by Azerbaijan in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To further boost its response to the ongoing pandemic, a team of WHO experts has recommended that the country strengthen contact tracing and testing.

Access to basic hand washing facilities is a key condition for schools to be able to operate safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the latest data from the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) found that 43 percent of schools worldwide lacked access to basic hand washing with soap and water in 2019.

More than 2,800 community health workers have been trained in Haiti as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and meetings have been conducted with community leaders to provide them with accurate information about COVID-19. All of these efforts provide much needed support to the Ministry of Health and the country’s Multisectoral Pandemic Management Commission of COVID-19.

 There has been a continued commitment to measles and rubella elimination in the WHO European Region, although the COVID-19 pandemic is placing an extraordinary burden on health systems.

At the media briefing today, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We’re half a year on from WHO sounding its highest alarm by declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  At the time, on 30th January, there were just 100 cases outside of China and no deaths. Since then there has been an exponential rise in cases and every country in the world has been impacted.”

“And with major disruptions to essential health services, the ripple effects of this pandemic are having a major impact politically, economically and in how people live their day-to-day lives. Everyone is asking, so how do we go back to ‘normal’? And today, I want to talk about not how we’re going to go back but how we’re going to go forward. And that to move forward, the best bet is to do it together,” he observed.

“In early January, at the beginning of the outbreak, WHO activated our global technical networks to gather all available information about this virus. Within the first two weeks of January, the viral genome of COVID-19 was mapped in China, shared globally and the first PCR test protocol was shared on the WHO website. This enabled the first diagnostics to be developed, vaccine research to start and soon after millions of tests, PPE and supplies were shipped around the world,” he explained.

“In February, we held the WHO’s Research & Development Blueprint meeting where scientists and researchers from across the world came together to identify research priorities. A roadmap was created for the development and fair distribution of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines,” he pointed out.

“Also, in February and March, numerous countries showed that it’s never too late to suppress COVID-19 using a comprehensive approach. This includes active case finding and isolation, contact tracing and quarantine, adequate testing and appropriate clinical care. With these tools it was clearly possible to break the chains of transmission by a combination of traditional public health techniques,” he added.

“As the pandemic evolved, countries clearly needed to come together in an unprecedented way to develop new vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics – and to set the stage for ensuring that they reach all people, everywhere. In April, WHO convened world leaders and launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools ACT-Accelerator. In just three months, the accelerator has already shown results.

“As of today: Nine vaccine candidates are already in the COVAX portfolio and going through Phase 2 or 3 trials; and this portfolio – already the broadest in the world – is constantly expanding. And through the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, countries that represent nearly 70 percent of the global population have signed up or expressed an interest to be part of the new initiative.

“On therapeutics, the first proven therapy for severe COVID-19, Dexamethasone, was announced in June with support from the therapeutic accelerator arm and is currently in scale-up.

“On diagnostics, more than 50 tests are currently in evaluation, and new evidence has been generated around rapid antigen detection tests that could be game-changing. 

“The Act-Accelerator is the only global framework for ensuring the fair and equitable allocation of COVID-19 tools. But it must be financed to be successful. IMF estimates the pandemic costs the global economy $375 billion US dollars a month and predicts a cumulative loss to the global economy over two years of over $12 trillion US dollars.

“The world has already spent trillions dealing with the short-term consequences of the pandemic.  G20 countries alone have mobilized more than $10 trillion US dollars in fiscal stimulus to treat and mitigate the consequences of the pandemic. That is already more than three and a half times as much as the world spent in the entire response to the global financial crisis.

“It’s easy to think of the ACT-Accelerator as a research and development effort; but in reality it’s the best economic stimulus the world can invest. Funding the ACT-Accelerator will cost a tiny fraction in comparison to the alternative where economies retract further and require continued fiscal stimulus packages.

“Before spending another $10 trillion US dollars on the consequences of the next wave, we estimate that the world will need to spend at least $100 billion US dollars on new tools, especially any new vaccines that are developed. The first and most immediate need is $31.3 billion US dollars, for the ACT-Accelerator.

“The ACT-Accelerator is the only up and running global initiative that brings together all the global R&D, manufacturing, regulatory, purchasing and procurement needed, for all the tools required, to end the pandemic.  Picking individual winners is an expensive, risky gamble.  The ACT-Accelerator enables governments to spread the risk and share the reward.

“In particularly, the development of vaccines is long, complex, risky and expensive.

The vast majority of vaccines in early development fail. The world needs multiple vaccine candidates of different types to maximize the chances of finding a winning solution. When a successful new vaccine is found there will be greater demand than there is supply.

“Excess demand and competition for supply is already creating vaccine nationalism and risk of price gouging. This is the kind of market failure that only global solidarity, public sector investment and engagement can solve. But the ACT-Accelerator funding gap can’t be covered by traditional development assistance alone.

“The best solution for everyone is a blend of development assistance and additional financing from stimulus packages to fund this effort. And this blend of financing is the best solution right now because it’s the fastest way to end the pandemic and ensure a swift global recovery. We live in a globalised economy and countries are dependent on each other for goods and services, transportation and supply. If we don’t get rid of the virus everywhere, we can’t rebuild economies anywhere.

“And the real beauty of the ACT-Accelerator and its work is that stimulus investments and globally coordinated rollout of new vaccines, tests and therapeutics would have a major multiplier effect on our economies. The sooner we stop the pandemic, the sooner we can ensure internationally inter-linked sectors like travel, trade and tourism can truly recover.

“There is hope. If we all deploy the tools currently at our disposal today and if we collectively invest in new tools through the Act-Accelerator, we have a route out of this pandemic. Together! Together! Together with solidarity.

“Over the past two years, working with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, communities, health workers and local and international partners, we collectively defeated one of the most difficult Ebola outbreaks the world has ever faced. However, at the time of COVID-19, the outbreak in Equateur province is a worrying development. So far there have been 86 Ebola cases across the province.

“The country, government and partners face significant logistical challenges in being able to rapidly investigate and establish response capacities in extremely remote and difficult areas to access. The geographic spread of the outbreak is vast, with cases in some areas separated by more than 250 kilometers and many areas are only accessible by helicopter or boat.

“Right now, WHO has approximately 100 staff on the ground, working with the Ministry of Health, UN agencies, NGOs and communities. We immediately released $2.5 million US dollars from the contingency fund for emergencies and our regional emergency response fund to support the immediate response.

“To bring the outbreak under control and end it, WHO and partners require additional funding. We’re currently working with surrounding provinces and neighboring countries to enhance preparedness as we did with the previous Ebola outbreak in Eastern DRC.

“As we know from past experience, this is not just a matter for a countries health security, it is a matter of global health security. Whether it’s COVID-19, Ebola or other high impact epidemics, we must be prepared, we need to be on high alert and we need to respond quickly. And our best chance to be successful is always do it together,” the WHO Director-General said. (eom)

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