UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for global solidarity in the fight against the pandemic.
“COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time,” said Guterres, calling for coordinated global action in three areas: respond in solidarity to stop the virus, bolster primary health care systems and universal health coverage, prepare for the next global health emergency.
World leaders must urgently step up with a global plan for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, he said in a video message to the World Health Assembly, which is under way in Geneva. “This starts with funding the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility, to deploy life-saving tools to the poorest countries on a global scale.”
He repeated his appeal for a Group of 20 (G20) task force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities, the World Health Organization (WHO), the ACT-Accelerator partners and international financial institutions, and other key stakeholders.
The task force 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, he said.
The G20 task force should address equitable global distribution by using the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility. It 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, he said.
“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,” said Guterres.
COVID-19 cannot be seen in isolation from the fundamental problems with the health systems. With the right primary health care systems in place, the world will recover more quickly from this pandemic, and prevent the next before it takes hold, he said. “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.”
Robust primary health systems are a start, but they are not enough. The world needs political commitment at the highest level to transform the existing system through an internationally coordinated, all-of-government-and-society approach, he said.
The 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. The world needs 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.