Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the event “Convening Business Leaders for Vaccine Equity”, led by the Ikea Foundation, Purpose and the United Nations, delivered virtually today:
I want to pay tribute to what has been a fantastic partnership we have had now for many years. Thanks to you, many people saw their lives saved. Many people that were in dramatic circumstances got a solution for their plight. And we could alleviate suffering in dramatic circumstances for hundreds and thousands — I’d say thousands and thousands of people in some of the most dangerous and difficult locations in the world.
So, to have you leading this meeting is a guarantee of success, because what our partnership has always represented is indeed the very symbol of the values we represent.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a tsunami of suffering: At least 3.4 million lives have been lost, 500 million jobs have disappeared and trillions of dollars have been wiped from global balance sheets. This is indeed much more than a health crisis. It is a social crisis and an economic crisis, with dramatic long-term consequences for livelihoods, businesses and for economies.
We are now beginning to see light ahead — at least in some parts of the world. Indeed, science has delivered safe and effective vaccines in record time. Seven have already been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), and in total, we have 13 [vaccines] available. This is an incredible success.
Vaccine rollouts have started in more than 170 countries. But the problem is that there is a large and growing vaccine gap between rich and poor countries. Just 10 countries have administered more than 75 per cent of all vaccine doses. In poorer countries, even health workers and people with underlying conditions cannot access them.
This is not only unjust, it’s self-defeating and dangerous to everyone. Fast, equitable vaccination is the only way to prevent new and more dangerous variants from emerging and wreaking further havoc, in rich and poor countries alike. COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time. It can strike back. The world must act with resolution and in solidarity to overcome the virus.
The recent surges in South Asia and elsewhere show that COVID-19 is still very much with us. More than 80,000 people died in the past week alone. We are in a war against this virus. To achieve victory, we need to put our economies and societies on a war footing. We need a true global vaccination plan.
For that purpose, I advocated at the [Group of 20] and the World Health Assembly for a global task force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities, those that manufacture or can manufacture vaccines, WHO, the ACT-Accelerator partners and international financial institutions, able to deal with the pharmaceutical companies and other key stakeholders.
This 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. 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.
I am ready to mobilize the entire United Nations system to support this effort, but we need political will to move forward. By working together, national leaders, the private sector and civil society can chart a faster, more equitable course out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Obviously, this will never succeed without the support of corporations like yours. Your efforts are absolutely critical. The private sector has been central to every breakthrough since the start of the pandemic — on vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, devices and data. You are agents and evangelists of change at the forefront of dynamic, transformational movements to reimagine the present and the future.
The United Nations fully supports companies making a fair return on their investment in research and development, to fund further research and innovation. But I repeat: We are in an unprecedented crisis that requires unprecedented action. I commend the many companies that have acknowledged this, by putting people before profits. Now is the time for the private sector to play its full part in ending this global catastrophe.
There are three key ways in which the private sector is making a difference.
The first is advocacy. By leveraging your influence and expertise, convening others, and in particular business leaders, and deploying the skills of your personnel and the people you lead, corporations are helping to mobilize political will for urgent action by Governments and vaccine manufacturers. You can play a huge part in convincing people, organizations and even Governments that vaccination, and vaccine equity, are in their best interests.
The second is communications. By using your channels and platforms to share accurate, trusted and life-saving public health information, corporations can counter misinformation, identify and promote solutions and build positive networks that bring results at the local, national and global levels.
I invite you to join the United Nations initiative, known as Verified, which aims to counter the growing infodemic of misinformation and conspiracy theories with accurate, scientific, factual information people can trust. Good communication saves lives, particularly in a pandemic.
The third way you are helping is by donating services and resources. Some companies have found imaginative ways to do this. Uber, for example, is donating free rides to take people to their vaccination appointments across the United States. Others are helping to manage supply chains for vaccines and treatments, and developing education programmes to reach vulnerable groups.
I encourage all companies, particularly those with global representation, to look beyond headquarters and focus on the most vulnerable countries and communities, from South Asia to sub-Saharan Africa. We need global companies to mobilize on a global scale to beat this pandemic. I also urge companies to go beyond in-kind donations and consider raising funds for vaccine equality.
We have a mechanism to achieve this. In April 2020, Governments, global health organizations, manufacturers and more came together to create the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility to get vaccines, tests and treatments to the poorest countries and most vulnerable and at-risk people.
Those most at risk include nurses, doctors and care workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic and need vaccines to keep themselves, their families and their patients safe. The most vulnerable include older people and those with co-morbidities and underlying health problems. When these groups are vaccinated, whole families and communities can breathe a little easier.
You can support COVAX and vaccine equality through the “Go Give One” fundraising campaign run by WHO. We urgently need to raise $1.6 billion by June. With that money, COVAX could deliver up to 1. billion doses to low- and middle-income countries by the end of this year. This is the game-changer we need to end vaccine inequality — and end the pandemic.
Every little helps, from major corporate initiatives to matching staff donations.
I said earlier that the private sector has been central to every breakthrough during this pandemic. But the private sector has not achieved this alone. Collaboration between countries, communities, public and private sectors is key.
By working together, we can vaccinate the world, end the pandemic and kick-start a strong recovery. I thank you once again for being here today, and for your solidarity and commitment. I wish you a very successful meeting and once again thank you.