Collective action and commitment to equity: COVID-19 Update – WHO Press Conference (26 April 2021)

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    WHO’s chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “the ACT Accelerator was conceived with two aims: the rapid development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics; and equitable access to those tools. The first objective has been achieved,” however, “we have a long way to go on the second objective.”

    Speaking reporters in Geneva today (23 Apr), Tedros said, “the ACT Accelerator needs 19 billion US dollars this year. That’s a drop in the ocean compared with the trillions of dollars governments are spending on supporting their economies, and the massive revenues that most vaccine makers are generating.”

    He continued, “it’s not good enough to say that inequity is just the way the world is. It’s not okay that people just like you and me die when we have the tools that could save them. We cannot accept the same old story.”

    On COVID-19 in India, Tedros said the situation is “a devastating reminder of what this virus can do and why we must marshal every tool against it in a comprehensive and integrated approach: public health measures, vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.”

    He continued, “this is a scenario that is playing out around the world, and will continue to play out unless we ensure equitable access to the tools needed to save lives. The solution is straightforward: we need countries and companies that control the resources that could save lives to share.”

    Peter Sands, Executive Director of Global Fund also spoke to reporters. He said, “the reality is the world would be in a better position if we hadactually succeeded in getting that 38 billion roughly 12 months ago. We would have more manufacturing capacity for vaccines, more countries would have received the tests they need to be able to run test and trace strategies and contain transmission. We would be further down the road to developing innovative therapeutics and we would have done a better job in protecting the frontline health workers who put their lives at risk every day in fighting the pandemic.”

    Sands added, “so even before we think about what we need to do to achieve more, we should reflect on the fact that that 19 billion we need right now, we don’t want to be in 12 months saying the same as I’ve just said, that we would be in a better position had we got that money.”

    WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said, “one of the things that we’ve been discussing that we could do with increased funding that in retrospect didn’t go as well as the vaccine’s development is on the antivirals. And this is traditionally been a weak area.”

    She explained, “if you look at the investment that went into vaccine development just in the first year, it’s probably around 20 billion dollars or so globally from the public sector and the private sector. We didn’t see that kind of investment in therapeutics. And early on, there was too much reliance on unproven remedies, you know, the clinical trials were just starting, the focus was on repurposed drugs, followed by monoclonal antibodies.”

    Swaminathan continued, “and we still haven’t got any antivirals though we’re seeing some promising developments on antivirals. So, I think increased investments in the ACT-Accelerator, in the therapeutics pillar, would enable us to develop broad spectrum antivirals, which would help not only this pandemic, but also be safeguard against future pandemics. And it is possible.”

    Emma Hannay, Chief Access Officer & ACT-Accelerator Lead for FIND said, “we’ve seen an expanded scope and need for diagnostic testing deployed in areas like improving public health response, in responding to new variants, and in the future in responding to effective test and treat programs. We’re also working to ensure that the ACT-Accelerator leaves a legacy.”

    She continued, “we know that we will need diagnostics to rapidly respond and identify the next pandemic. And to be able to respond to the next pandemic will require innovation and how tests are developed and in how manufacturing is scaled rapidly to ensure we have the test needed for the global response.”

    Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance said, “with the virus raging out of control in parts of the world and more and more new variants appearing, collective action and commitment to equity remains our only hope for the pandemic to end.”

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