WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 3 April 2020
As Tarik said, we’re delighted to be joined today by Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing-Director of the International Monetary Fund. Welcome, my sister.
Kristalina will say more in a few minutes about the economic impact of the pandemic and what the IMF is doing to support countries and the global economy.
More than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, including more than 50,000 deaths.
But we know that this is much more than a health crisis. We are all aware of the profound social and economic consequences of the pandemic.
The restrictions many countries have put in place to protect health are taking a heavy toll on the income of individuals and families, and the economies of communities and nations.
We are in a shared struggle to protect both lives and livelihoods.
In the short term, countries can ease the burden on their populations through social welfare programs to ensure people have food and other life essentials.
For some countries, debt relief is essential to enable them to take care of their people and avoid economic collapse. This is an area of cooperation between WHO, the IMF and the World Bank.
But ultimately, the best way for countries to end restrictions and ease their economic effects is to attack the virus, with the aggressive and comprehensive package of measures that we have spoken about many times before: find, test, isolate and treat every case, and trace every contact.
If countries rush to lift restrictions too quickly, the virus could resurge and the economic impact could be even more severe and prolonged.
Financing the health response is therefore an essential investment not just in saving lives, but in the longer-term social and economic recovery.
There are three main areas for countries to focus on.
- First, we call on all countries to ensure core public health measures are fully funded, including case-finding, testing, contact tracing, collecting data, and communication and information campaigns.
- Second, we also call on countries and partners to strengthen the foundations of health systems. That means health workers must be paid their salaries, and health facilities need a reliable supply of funding to purchase essential medical supplies.
- Third, we call on all countries to remove financial barriers to care.
If people delay or forego care because they can’t afford it, they not only harm themselves, they make the pandemic harder to control and put society at risk.
Several countries are suspending user fees and providing free testing and care for COVID-19, regardless of a person’s insurance, citizenship, or residence status.
We encourage these measures. This is in an unprecedented crisis, which demands an unprecedented response.
Suspending user fees should be supported with measures to compensate providers for the loss of revenues.
Governments should also consider using cash transfers to the most vulnerable households to overcome barriers to access.
This may be particularly important for refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants and the homeless.
The pandemic is also having an effect on the fight against other diseases, like polio.
As you know, in recent years we have driven polio to the brink of eradication. This has been a massive global effort, started by Rotary, supported by many other partners, and led by thousands of health workers, vaccinating children in some very difficult and dangerous areas.
Many of those health workers are now supporting the COVID-19 response.
They are tracing contacts, finding cases and providing public health information to communities.
To reduce the risk of increasing transmission of COVID-19, the polio oversight board has made the hard decision to suspend house-to-house vaccination campaigns, knowing that this may lead to an increase in polio cases.
To reduce this risk, we will support countries to maintain essential immunization for all vaccine preventable diseases.
WHO has published guidance for countries on how to maintain essential health services even while responding to this crisis.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is working to ensure that once it is safe to do so, countries can be supported to rapidly restart polio vaccination campaigns.
While all our energy may be focused on COVID-19 now, our commitment to eradicating polio is unshakeable.
Sadly, there are reports from some countries of an increase in domestic violence since the COVID-19 outbreak began.
As people are asked to stay at home, the risk of intimate partner violence is likely to increase.
Women in abusive relationships are more likely to be exposed to violence, as are their children, as family members spend more time in close contact, and families cope with additional stress and potential economic or job losses.
Women may have less contact with family and friends who may provide support and protection from violence.
We call on countries to include services for addressing domestic violence as an essential service that must continue during the COVID-19 response.
If you are experiencing or at risk of domestic violence, speak to supportive family and friends, seek support from a hotline, or seek out local services for survivors.
Make a plan to protect yourself and your children any way you can. This could include having a neighbour, friend, relative, or shelter identified to go to should you need to leave the house immediately.
There is never any excuse for violence. We abhor all violence of all forms, at all times.
Finally, the global response to COVID-19 would not be possible without the generosity of countries and partners.
Two months ago, WHO issued its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, with an initial ask of US$675 million to support the response.
I’m delighted to say that almost US$690 million has now been pledged or received. Of this amount, US$300 million has been given to support WHO’s work, and the rest has been given on a bilateral basis, or to other organizations involved in the response.
I’d like to thank the State of Kuwait, which today is becoming one of the largest donors, with a total of US$60 million.
WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund has now raised more than US$127 million from more than 219,000 individuals and organizations. I’d like to thank Tencent for its contribution of US$10 million.
I’m also pleased to announce that I have invited Unicef to join the Solidarity Response Fund. Unicef has extensive experience both in fundraising and in implementing programmes, and our partnership will help us to work together closely to save lives. Thank you so much, my sister Henrietta, for accepting my invitation.
We still have a long way to go in this fight. WHO is working every day with all countries and partners to save lives, and to mitigate the social and economic impact of the pandemic.
The IMF is a key partner, and I’d now like to hand the floor to my sister Kristalina to make a few remarks. Thank you so much for joining us Kristalina.