24 May 2021

Double COVID-19 Vaccine Production, Bolster Primary Health-Care Systems to Prepare for Next Global Emergency, Secretary-General Tells World Health Assembly

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the World Health Assembly, held today:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, friends,

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a tsunami of suffering.  Over 3.4 million lives have been lost.  Some 500 million jobs have gone; trillions of dollars have been wiped from global balance sheets.  The most vulnerable are suffering most, and I fear this is far from over.

I pay tribute to the front‑line health workers who are the heroes of this pandemic.  Millions of health‑care professionals continue to put themselves in harm’s way every day.  We owe them our deepest appreciation.  This includes our colleagues at the World Health Organization (WHO), who are working around the world to support Member States in saving lives and protecting the vulnerable.

Excellencies, colleagues, friends,

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have warned of the dangers of a two-speed global response.  Sadly, unless we act now, we face a situation in which rich countries vaccinate the majority of their people and open their economies, while the virus continues to cause deep suffering by circling and mutating in the poorest countries.  Further spikes and surges could claim hundreds of thousands of lives and slow the global economic recovery.

COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time.  We need coordinated global action in three areas to put the world on the path towards recovery, and to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

First, the world must respond resolutely and in solidarity to stop the virus.  World leaders must urgently step up with a global plan for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.  This starts with funding the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and its COVAX Facility, to deploy life‑saving tools to the poorest countries on a global scale.

But, that is not enough.  We are at war with a virus.  We need the logic and urgency of a war economy, to boost the capacity of our weapons.  On Friday, I called on the [Group of 20] (G20) to set up a task force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities, the World Health Organization, the ACT-Accelerator partners and international financial institutions, able to deal with the pharmaceutical companies and other key stakeholders.

It should aim to at least double manufacturing capacity by exploring all options, from voluntary licenses and technology transfers to patent pooling and flexibility on intellectual property rights.  The task force should address equitable global distribution by using the ACT‑Accelerator and its COVAX Facility.  The G20 task force should be co-convened at the highest levels by the major Powers who hold most of the global supply and production capacity, together with the multilateral system.  I am ready to mobilize the entire United Nations system to support this effort.

Second, we must bolster primary health‑care systems and universal health coverage.  COVID-19 cannot be seen in isolation from the fundamental problems with our health systems:  inequality, underfunding, complacency, neglect.  With the right primary health‑care systems in place, we will recover more quickly from this pandemic, and prevent the next before it takes hold.  Our efforts to recover from COVID-19 should not come at the cost of other essential health care, from women’s reproductive services to children’s vaccinations and mental health coverage.

Third, we must prepare for the next global health emergency.  Robust primary health systems are a start, but they are not enough.  I fully support the bold recommendations in the recent report by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

The world needs political commitment at the highest level to transform the existing system through an internationally coordinated, all-of-government and ‑society approach.  WHO must be at the heart of global pandemic preparedness.  It needs sustainable and predictable resources, and it must be fully empowered to do the job demanded of it.  We need a framework for international cooperation and solidarity fit for the future; new solutions for sustainable and predictable financing; and national capacity for prevention, detection and responses to disease outbreaks.

Excellencies, colleagues, friends,

COVID-19 must be a turning point.  Your deliberations at this seventy-fourth World Health Assembly will be critical to set the highest levels of ambition.  I urge you to take the bold decisions necessary to end this pandemic, and build safe, healthy communities and societies for the future.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.