WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 17 June 2020

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.
The world has now recorded more than 8 million cases of COVID-19.
In the first two months, 85,000 cases were reported.
But in the past two months 6 million cases have been reported.
There have been more than 435,000 deaths and in the Americas, Africa and South Asia; cases are still rapidly rising.
However, there are green shoots of hope, which show that together through global solidarity, humanity can overcome this pandemic.
We now have good examples of many countries that have shown how to effectively suppress the virus with a combination of testing, tracing, and quarantining patients and caring for those that get sick.
Lab capacity has been dramatically enhanced across the world to boost COVID-19 testing, which is critical for identifying where the virus is and informing government actions.
New mega hubs have been established that are now key to the distribution of personal protective equipment, which includes millions of masks, goggles, aprons and gloves; as well as other medical supplies.
Tech companies have developed applications that can assist with the critical task of contact tracing.
And there has been an enormous effort to accelerate the science around the pandemic.
Early on in the outbreak; on 11 February, WHO convened a Research and Innovation Forum on COVID-19, where hundreds of researchers came together from across the world with the aim of quickly developing quality diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
One of the key priorities identified was for the world to focus on accelerating research around treating patients with COVID-19.
Specifically, researchers agreed to investigate existing drugs with potential, including steroids.
WHO also developed a core protocol, which has been adapted and used by researchers around the world.
And yesterday, there was the welcome news of positive initial results from the RECOVERY trial in the United Kingdom.
Dexamethasone, a common steroid, has been shown to have a beneficial effect on those patients severely ill with COVID-19.
According to the early findings shared with WHO, for patients on oxygen alone the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one fifth.
And for patients requiring a ventilator, mortality was reduced by about one third.
However, dexamethasone was shown to not have a beneficial effect for those with milder disease, who did not need respiratory support.
This is very welcome news for those patients with severe illness, these drugs should only be used under close clinical supervision.
We need more therapeutics that can be used to tackle the virus, including those with milder symptoms.
WHO has now started to coordinate a meta-analysis pooling data from several clinical trials to increase our overall understanding of this intervention.
And, we will update our clinical guidance to reflect how and when dexamethasone should be used to treat COVID-19.
I want to thank the United Kingdom government, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals, researchers, patients and families who have contributed to this scientific breakthrough.
WHO will continue to work with all partners to develop other therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19, including through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.
Over the coming weeks and months, we hope there will be more treatments that improve patient outcomes and save lives.
While we are searching for COVID-19 treatments we must continue strong efforts to prevent as many infections as possible by finding, isolating, testing and caring for every case; and tracing and quarantining every contact.
COVID-19 is affecting the whole world but it’s important to remember that for the most vulnerable communities, this is just one of many threats they face.
We have consistently stressed the importance of ensuring essential health services continue, including routine vaccination and services for malaria, TB and HIV.
Today, I want to touch on Neglected Tropical Diseases, an issue I care deeply about.
NTDs are a group of 20 diseases including elephantiasis, sleeping sickness, leprosy, trachoma and intestinal worms that collectively wreak havoc on the poorest and most marginalized communities.
These diseases disfigure, disable and can kill, and they strike hardest in places of poverty and in remote areas where access to quality health services is extremely limited.
WHO and partners have developed a new roadmap, which moves away from single disease programmes to integrated approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of neglected tropical diseases, as part of an overall movement toward universal health coverage.
The NTD roadmap puts greater ownership on national and local governments to drive action.
Like with COVID-19, it calls for greater collaboration between governments, academia, civil society and the private sector in order to boost innovation and access to health technologies.
I have seen first hand the courage of people who are living with NTDS, which is why I call on countries not to forget about the most vulnerable.
Together, we can achieve anything and I am encouraged by progress in tackling the Ebola outbreak in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
If there are no more cases in the next seven days, the Government of DRC will be able to declare the outbreak over.
The lessons learned and experience gained by Congolese health workers are now being applied to inform the Ebola outbreak response in the West of the DRC, as well as broader lessons on testing and contact tracing, which are directly transferable for tackling COVID-19.
I thank you.

Source: World Health Organization

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