World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Courtesy photo/WHO)

The leader of the largest international health body in the world has called on countries to not make the mistake of hoarding vaccines as they develop and become available, like what was done at the onslaught of the pandemic with personal protective equipment [PPE], which left millions vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva last week that he invited WHO’s 194 member states to join the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility, an agreement that will ensure equitable access to treatment and equipment for the highest risk populations everywhere.
“While there is a wish amongst leaders to protect their own people first, the response to this pandemic has to be collective,” Ghebreyesus said. “This is not charity. We have learned the hard way that the fastest way to end this pandemic and reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere rather than the entire populations of just some countries.”
Ghebreyesus added that as the science accelerates toward a vaccine, there needs to be an effort to prevent what happened with the distribution of PPE at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“For a period of time some countries were without key supplies, such as key items for health workers who were dealing with surging cases of COVID-19,” he said. “And many countries still do not have enough.
“As new diagnostics, medicines and vaccines come through the pipeline it’s critical that countries don’t repeat the same mistakes. We need to prevent vaccine nationalism.”
The director-general said WHO is working with governments and the private sector to both hurry science through the ACT-accelerator and ensure that new innovations are available to everyone, everywhere starting with those at highest risk.
“Like an orchestra, we need all instruments to be played in harmony to create music that everyone enjoys,” Ghebreyesus said. “One or two instruments playing by themselves won’t suffice when the world is waiting and listening intently.”
Pointing back to January, the director-general said China mapped the COVID-19 genome and shared it with WHO and the wider world.
He said by the first week of February, WHO began shipping tests to over 150 labs around the globe, which enabled countries to quickly identify, track and trace the virus.
As this was happening the outbreak began to spread in other countries, resulting in a huge surge in demand for PPE such as medical masks, gowns, gloves and face protection.
The director-general said due to a so-called lockdown in several key countries there was a collapse in air transportation, which impeded supplies from getting to everyone in need.
“Some countries put in place export restrictions and there were several instances of requesting key medical supplies for national use.”
Ghebreyesus contends that supply nationalism exacerbated the pandemic and contributed to the total failure of the global supply chain.
“For a period of time some countries were without key supplies, such as key items for health workers who were dealing with surging cases of COVID-19. And many countries still do not have enough.”
WHO says to boost manufacturing and ensure that supply chains began to function, the global health body convened meetings with key companies and industry groups, utilizing new and existing logistics hubs to establish a solid network between suppliers and distributors.
They added partners like UNICEF, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Alibaba Foundation purchased and delivered hundreds of millions of pieces of PPE for health workers globally.
Ghebreyesus asserts sharing finite supplies strategically and globally is in each country’s national interest.
“No one is safe until everyone is safe,” he said. “No one country has access to research and development, manufacturing and all the supply chain for all essential medicines and materials.”
The director general said for example, vaccine vials may need to be filled in one country with stoppers produced in another, encased in high-grade glass only available from yet another country.
“And if we can work together, we can ensure that all essential workers are protected and proven treatments like dexamethasone are available to those who need them,” he said.
Since May, WHO has been in extensive consultations to develop a new framework to guide fair and equitable access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines for COVID-19 as they become available, according to the director-general.
Ghebreyesus said once a successful vaccine has been identified WHO will provide recommendations for their appropriate and fair use and will likely roll out in two phases.
In phase one, doses will be allocated proportionally to all participating countries simultaneously to reduce overall risk. In phase two, consideration will be given to countries in relation to threat and vulnerability.
“If we don’t protect the highest-risk people from the virus everywhere, we cannot stabilize health systems and rebuild the economy. This is what the first crucial phase of the vaccine aims to do.”

Who am I? I’m Shevry, the photo editor, a photographer and now producer of the Washington Informer’s digital broadcast program. Photography has been my passion since I was a teenager capturing neighborhood...

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