Ghebreyesus declared Friday that positive results from coronavirus vaccine trials mean the world “can begin to dream about the end of the pandemic,” but he said rich and powerful nations must not trample the poor and marginalised “in the stampede for vaccines.”
He cautioned that while the virus can be stopped, “the path ahead remains treacherous”. The pandemic has shown humanity at “its best and worst,” he said, pointing to “inspiring acts of compassion and self-sacrifice, breathtaking feats of science and innovation, and heartwarming demonstrations of solidarity, but also disturbing signs of self-interest, blame-shifting and divisions”.
Referring to the current upsurge in infections and deaths, Ghebreyesus said without naming any countries that “where science is drowned out by conspiracy theories, where solidarity is undermined by division, where sacrifice is substituted with self interest, the virus thrives, the virus spreads”.
He warned in a virtual address to the high-level meeting that a vaccine “will not address the vulnerabilities that lie at its root” including poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change, which he said must be tackled once the pandemic ends.
“We cannot and we must not go back to the same exploitative patterns of production and consumption, the same disregard for the planet that sustains all life, the same cycle of panic and meddling and the same divisive politics that fueled this pandemic,” he said.
On vaccines, Ghebreyesus said, “the light at the end of the tunnel is growing steadily brighter,” but vaccines “must be shared equally as global public goods, not as private commodities that widen inequalities and become yet another reason some people are left behind.”
He said WHO’s ACT-Accelerator program to quickly develop and distribute vaccines fairly “is in danger of becoming no more than a noble gesture” without major new funding. He said $4.3bn is needed immediately to lay the groundwork for mass procurement and delivery of vaccines and a further $23.9bn is required for 2021.
The world spends $7.5 trillion on health every year, almost 10% of global GDP, he said, but most of that money is spent in rich countries on treating disease rather than on “promoting and protecting health.”
“We need a radical rethink on the way we view and value health,” he said. “If the world is to avoid another crisis on this scale, investments in basic public health functions, especially primary health care, are essential, and all roads should lead to universal health coverage with a strong foundation of primary health care.”