The world must be united and the irreplaceable World Health Organization (WHO) should play a stronger role in the fight against the COVID-19 crisis, said world leaders at the first ever virtual session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) that opened on Monday.
“COVID-19 must be a wake-up call,” said United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when opening the 73rd session of the WHA focusing on the pandemic that has infected over 4.5 million people and taken away more than 300,000 lives globally in a matter of months.
“We have seen some solidarity, but very little unity, in our response to COVID-19,” deplored the UN secretary general.
“Many countries have ignored the recommendations of the World Health Organization,” he said. “Consequently, the virus has spread across the world.”
Guterres reiterated the UN’s call for a coordinated large-scale response led by the WHO with emphasis on solidarity with developing countries and vulnerable people.
“Unless we control the spread of the virus, the economy will never recover,” the secretary general said. “We must massively increase the resources available to the developing world.”
Simonetta Sommaruga, president of the Swiss Confederation that hosts the WHO’s headquarters, thanked the WHO for its tireless commitment to tackle the pandemic.
“Director general (Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus), as you go through this crisis, be assured that you have the Switzerland’s full support and cooperation,” she said.
“Our support to you is based on our commitment to multilateralism, solidarity and international cooperation,” added the Swiss president. “Today, more than ever, these things are absolutely essential and they need to be strengthened.”
Calling for more funding for the WHO, she said the organization, which has always managed to learn lessons from the epidemics that it had to deal with, will also be able to carry out a thorough review of the current crisis in order to improve its future emergency management.
French President Emmanuel Macron also stressed the need for more funding for the global health body, which he said plays an “irreplaceable role” in coordinating action thanks to its scientific expertise and knowledge of the situation on the ground.
Calling the assembly “one of the most important assemblies in the history of the WHO,” Macron said that this must be a moment of unity and solidarity, and also a moment of clear thought and effective action.
He urged all stakeholders, including states, organizations, funds, pharmaceutical companies or ordinary citizens, to cooperate with the WHO.
The French president hailed the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator” (ACT) initiative, which is an international cooperation project launched by the WHO in April to speed up the development, production and equitable distribution of new tools, treatments and a vaccine in particular, to combat COVID-19.
“If we deliver a vaccine against COVID-19, it will be a global public good, and everyone must have access to it,” said Macron.