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World Leaders Back WHO Covid-19 Plans, U.S. Absent

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization (Elma Okic, UN)

24 Apr. 2020. Several international leaders took part today in a virtual conference on accelerating and focusing World Health Organization’s efforts to combat Covid-19 infections. While WHO’s initiatives also drew support from many leading health organizations and foundations, officials from other major countries — including Russia, India, China, and the United States — did not take part in the event.

WHO called the virtual meeting of world leaders to speed and better coordinate global efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19 infections from SARS-CoV-2 viruses. As of today, according to a dashboard by Johns Hopkins University, some 2.8 million cases of Covid-19 infections are confirmed, leading to more than 195,000 deaths.

A joint statement issued by participants calls for more innovative Covid-19 diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies, “in record time and at record scale and access.” At the same time, says the statement, participants commit to learn lessons from the past and distribute the results of these scientific efforts more equitably than before. A separate press statement names the early days of HIV treatments and deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, as examples of solutions that were not made fully available worldwide.

WHO says that since January, the organization pre-qualified diagnostics for Covid-19 used worldwide, and helped standardize and test vaccines, promote innovative trial designs, and standardize regulatory processes. As reported in Science & Enterprise on 19 March, WHO is organizing an international clinical trial to test four Covid-19 treatments.

The virtual event was co-hosted with WHO by President of France Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Joining the hosts were Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.K. foreign minister Dominic Raab, and heads of state from other European, African, Asian, and Western Hemisphere countries, as well as leaders of other regional associations. And heads of many international vaccine groups, health organizations, and business groups also took part.

“We will only halt COVID-19 through solidarity,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General in the organization’s press statement. “Countries, health partners, manufacturers, and the private sector must act together and ensure that the fruits of science and research can benefit everybody.”

But other major countries were noticeably absent from the meeting, including officials from India, Russia, China, and the U.S. On 15 April, President Trump put a hold on new funding for WHO saying, “The American people deserve better from the WHO, and no more funding will be provided until its mismanagement, cover-ups, and failures can be investigated.”

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, one of today’s meeting hosts, responded on Twitter that same day: “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”

While today’s meeting aimed to give rhetorical solidarity to WHO, a separate meeting is scheduled for 4 May, where donors will be asked to make financial pledges of support for the organization’s work. EC president von der Leyen tells Reuters that the 4 May meeting aims to raise €7.5 billion ($US 8.1 billion) for WHO’s work on Covid-19.

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