WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the 10th Meeting of the Accelerating Access to COVID-19 Tools Facilitation Council – 26 April 2022 – Global

Your Excellency Mathume Phaahla,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends

When the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago, we responded by setting up the ACT Accelerator to help deliver vaccines, treatments and diagnostics equitably.

Two years later, the unique partnership of governments, global health agencies, civil society and industry has paid off.

Our partnership has enabled 40 countries to begin their vaccination campaigns against COVID-19.

It helped build sequencing capacity in Southern Africa which was the first to detect the Omicron variant.

And we’ve negotiated unprecedented agreements with the world’s largest oxygen providers to increase access in more than 120 low- and middle-income countries.

However, we know the job is far from done.

Omicron subvariants are causing a rapid increase in cases in some countries and there is always the possibility that a more deadly variant will emerge.

We have to work even harder to prepare for the worst case scenario.

The WHO target of vaccinating 70% of the population in each country remains essential to control the pandemic, with priority given to health workers, the elderly and other at-risk groups.

1.8 billion people in low, low and middle income countries have not yet received their first dose.

New COVID-19 antiviral drugs also show great promise.

On Friday, the WHO recommended nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, also known as Paxlovid, for patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of hospitalization.

However, although this effective therapy is readily available in high-income countries, it is virtually inaccessible in low- and middle-income countries.

ACT-A works to facilitate access to antivirals and to develop the production of generics over the long term.

The rollout of new oral antivirals is further compounded by very low testing rates in low- and middle-income countries.

Testing rates have declined at an alarming rate over the past four months, with low-income countries testing an average of 2 tests per day per 100,000 people.

This is more than 100 times lower than the testing rate in high-income countries.

If we are not able to detect the disease, we will not be able to treat it either.

The ACT Accelerator launched a new strategic plan and budget in October 2021 – but halfway through its current budget cycle, just over 10% has been funded.

With sufficient funding and support, we can work to end the acute phase of the pandemic, save lives, prevent suffering, and help get economies back on track.

We must ACT now and ACT together to end the COVID-19 emergency – for everyone, everywhere.

It is now my pleasure to welcome our co-host of the Council, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides from the European Commission.

The European region has been hit hard by COVID-19.

They are only too aware of the tragic consequences of this virus. The European Commission played a key role in the creation of the ACT Accelerator and has remained a staunch champion

Commissioner Kyriakides, thank you for joining us. It’s your turn to speak.

[Commissioner Kyriakides addressed the meeting]

Thank you, Commissioner, for your remarks and for the leadership of the European Commission in supporting ACT-Accelerator.

As you know, South Africa and Norway have been true champions of the ACT accelerator as co-chairs of this facilitating council.

I now have the honor to welcome His Excellency Mathume Phaahla, Minister of Health of South Africa, on behalf of President Ramaphosa. Your Excellency, thank you very much for the leadership and support of South Africa, and thank you for joining us today. It’s your turn to speak.

[Minister Phaahla addressed the meeting]

Thank you, Your Excellency, and again my deep respect and gratitude for South Africa’s continued leadership and support.

We now have a video message from Her Excellency Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister for International Development of Norway, on behalf of Prime Minister Støre.

[Minister Tvinnereim addressed the meeting by video message]

My thanks once again to South Africa and Norway for their continued support and leadership. I will now turn the floor over to the technical team co-chairs to moderate the meeting:

From South Africa, Olive Shisana, Special Advisor to the President for Social Policy, and from Norway, John-Arne Røttingen, Ambassador for Global Health.

John-Arne, you have the floor.

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