WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 — 18 January 2022 – World Health Organization

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

The volcanic eruption near Tonga and subsequent tsunami requires an urgent response.

With telecommunications down, WHO is on the ground in Tonga helping coordinate the response by channelling information between UN agencies, humanitarian partners and the Tongan government.

Information on the degree of destruction is still being gathered but WHO will do all it can to support the people and government of Tonga.

I visited Tonga myself in 2019. I recognize how vulnerable to natural disaster and the climate crisis the country is but also how resilient and resourceful the people are.  

We will do everything we can to support Tonga.


Omicron continues to sweep the world.

Last week, there were more than 18 million reported cases.

The number of deaths remains stable for the moment but we are concerned about the impact Omicron is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems.

In some countries, cases seem to have peaked, which gives hope that the worst of this latest wave is done with, but no country is out of the woods yet.

I remain particularly concerned about many countries that have low vaccination rates, as people are many times more at risk of severe illness and death if they’re unvaccinated.

Omicron may be less severe, on average of course, but the narrative that it is mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response and costs more lives. 

Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalizations and deaths, and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.

The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable.

For many countries, the next few weeks remain really critical for health workers and health systems.

I urge everyone to do their best to reduce risk of infection so that you can help take pressure off the system.

Now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag.

We can still significantly reduce the impact of the current wave by sharing and using health tools effectively and implementing public health and social measures that we know work. 

I am proud COVAX delivered its one-billionth dose over the weekend.

Of course it’s not enough and we should do more.

At a time of Omicron, it remains more important than ever to get vaccines to the unvaccinated.

Vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection and transmission of Omicron than they were for previous variants, but they still are exceptionally good at preventing serious disease and death.

This is key to protecting hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

We’ve been able to track new variants like Omicron and this virus’ evolution in real time thanks to efforts of thousands of scientists and experts around the world.

More than 7 million whole genome sequences from 180 countries have now been submitted to GISAID, which was initially set up to track flu.

This pandemic is nowhere near over and with the incredible growth of Omicron globally, new variants are likely to emerge, which is why tracking and assessment remain critical.

New formulations of vaccines are being developed and assessed for how they perform against Omicron and other strains.

I am concerned that unless that if we change the current model we’ll enter a second and even more destructive phase of vaccine inequity.

We need to make sure we share current vaccines equitably and we develop distributed manufacturing around the world. 

We can only beat this virus if we work together and share health tools equitably. It’s really that simple.


On Friday, WHO recommended two new COVID-19 treatments, based on data from seven trials, again increasing the arsenal of tools used to fight severe illness and death: a rheumatoid arthritis drug called baricitinib and a monoclonal antibody called sotrovimab.

Again, the challenge is that high prices and limited supply means access is limited.

WHO is working with our partners in ACT-Accelerator to negotiate lower prices with manufacturers and ensure supply will be available for low- and middle-income countries.

We urge manufacturers to use WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool to share technology, know-how and voluntary licensing in order to facilitate increased production capacity globally, which would save the most lives.

WHO’s COVID-19 clinical management guidelines have been critical to policy makers and health workers so that they can access the latest information on how best to treat patients with COVID-19.

Sharing clinical data remains critical so that WHO can generate up-to-date scientific evidence regarding Omicron.

WHO invites all Member States, health facilities and research networks to voluntarily contribute to the WHO Global Clinical Platform for COVID-19, which is available through our website.

Next week, the WHO Executive Board, which is made up of 34 Member States, will meet to discuss the world’s health challenges.

The pandemic will remain at the forefront, particularly how to more effectively share tests, treatments and vaccines equitably and to meet the 70 per cent vaccine target by July 2022.

However, the impact of the pandemic on other health issues has also been devastating and Member States will be discussing how we can stop the backsliding and recover together.

WHO will be working to accelerate progress on negotiations around a pandemic accord, as well as sustainable financing.

If we’re serious about strengthening health systems, preparing for future pandemics and tackling the litany of health challenges we collectively face in a heating world, WHO and the whole global health infrastructure will need to be sustainably financed.
Reports from the Global Pandemic Monitoring Board, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations all recognized the need for predictable and sustainable financing at all levels of the organization.

We don’t need more reports or speeches, now is the moment for financing that fits the health challenges of our time.

This month is Cervical Cancer Awareness month and I am pleased to see both action and advocacy taking place.

Yesterday, Serbia announced that this year they would introduce vaccination against human papillomavirus, or HPV, the pathogen responsible for 99% of cervical cancers.

Serbia will join 116 countries worldwide that are vaccinating against this cancer causing virus.

And my sister Princess Dina Mired, who is a Member of WHO Expert Group for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer marked the anniversary of WHO’s global strategy by calling for a comprehensive approach to vaccination, screening and treatment.

Princess Mired rightly concluded that cervical cancer elimination is both possible and smart economics.

Christian, back to you.

I thank you.

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