WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 4 May 2020

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Ten days ago, I joined President Emmanuel Macron, President Ursula von der Leyen and Melinda Gates to launch the ACT Accelerator, to support the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics against COVID-19.

Today, leaders from 40 countries all over the world came together to support the ACT Accelerator through the COVID-19 Global Response International Pledging Event, hosted by the European Commission.

During today’s event, some €7.4 billion was pledged for research and development for vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

This was a powerful and inspiring demonstration of global solidarity.

Today, countries came together not only to pledge their financial support, but also to pledge their commitment to ensuring all people can access life-saving tools for COVID-19; accelerating development of products, but at the same time, access for all.

Recent advances in science are enabling the world to move at incredible speed to develop these tools.

But the true measure of success will not only be how fast we can develop safe and effective tools – it will be how equally we can distribute them.

None of us can accept a world in which some people are protected while others are not. Everybody should be protected.

None of us are safe until all of us are safe.

The potential for continued waves of infection of COVID-19 across the globe demands that every single person on the planet be protected from this disease.

WHO remains committed to working with all countries and partners to accelerate the development and production of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, and to ensure their equitable distribution.

This is an opportunity for the world to come together to confront a common threat, but also to forge a common future; a future in which all people enjoy the right to the highest attainable standard of health – and the products that deliver that right.

That’s what we mean by health for all. We have been saying it for more than 70 years, since WHO was created. But I think given the experience we have now and the difficulties we’re going through, it’s time to make it happen: health for all.

But one of the best tools is also one of the most basic: clean hands.

The simple act of cleaning hands can be the difference between life and death, and remains one of the most important public health measures for protecting individuals, families and communities against COVID-19 – and many other diseases.

Tomorrow is Hand Hygiene Day – a reminder of the importance of clean hands for health workers, and for all of us.

At the same time, we must remember that millions of people around the world are not able to practice this most basic of precautions.

Around the world, less than two-thirds of health care facilities are equipped with hand hygiene stations, and 3 billion people lack soap and water at home.

This is an old problem that requires new and vastly increased attention.

If we are to stop COVID-19 or any other source of infection, and keep health workers safe, we must dramatically increase investments in soap, access to water, and alcohol-based hand rubs.

Tomorrow also marks the International Day of the Midwife.

This is an opportunity to remember the vital role that midwives play all over the world in providing safe and effective care for women and newborns.

Research shows that interventions delivered by midwives can avert over 80% of all maternal deaths, stillbirths, and neonatal deaths.

The service of midwives is actually a lifeline for many.

Childbirth can be one of the most precious moments in a woman’s life, but it can also be one of the most dangerous.

Midwives are essential for guiding and caring for women through their entire pregnancy, and for the critical moment of childbirth.

But we need more midwives in all countries, especially low-resource countries.

To mark Hand Hygiene Day and the International Day of the Midwife, we are calling all people to stop what they’re doing at noon tomorrow to clap for nurses and midwives, and to thank them for their role in delivering safe and effective care – especially during this pandemic. They’re risking their lives to give lives to others.

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Several countries are now starting to ease so-called lockdown and stay-at-home orders.

But our common commitment to basic measures such as cleaning hands and physical distancing cannot be relaxed.

Nor can the commitment to the tools that are the foundation of the response: to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and trace every contact.

And to ensure health systems have the capacity they need to provide safe and effective care for all.

But just as the number of new cases and deaths is declining in some countries, it’s mounting in others.

That’s why today’s pledging event is so important. This virus will be with us for a long time, and we must come together to develop and share the tools to defeat it.

But of course, today’s event only covers one part of the response – for research and development in vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

In the weeks and months ahead, we will need much more to meet the demand for personal protective equipment, medical oxygen and other essential supplies.

Later this week, WHO will launch its updated Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, which will provide an update of the resources WHO needs to support the international response and national action plans to the end of 2020.

WHO is grateful to the many countries and donors who supported the first Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.

And we’re also grateful to the more than 300,000 individuals, corporations and foundations who have contributed to the Solidarity Response Fund, which has generated more than US$210 million in the past 6 weeks.

As my friend Boris Johnson said during today’s pledging event, we’re in this together, and together we will prevail.

We will prevail through national unity and global solidarity.

The antidote to this virus is national unity and global solidarity.

The antidote to this virus is the human spirit.

Thank you.

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