GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) made some stark statements about the state of the coronavirus pandemic across the globe during a press briefing on Monday.
Although the U.S. and other countries with access to COVID-19 vaccines are seeing declining cases and deaths from the virus, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “we are still in a perilous situation,” globally.
“The spread of variants, increased social mixing, the relaxation of public health and social measures, and inequitable vaccination are all driving COVID-19 transmission,” said the WHO director general.
Ghebreyesus said the global disparity in access to COVID-19 vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic.
“High- and upper-middle income countries represent 53% of the world’s population, but have received 83% of the world’s vaccines,” said Ghebreyesus. “By contrast, low- and lower-middle income countries account for 47% of the world’s population, but have received just 17% of the world’s vaccines.”
Addressing this imbalance is an essential part of the solution, according to Ghebreyesus, but it’s not the only part. He advocated for public health measures to stay in place.
"Even in countries with the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates, public health capacities must be strengthened to prepare for the possibility of vaccine-evading variants, and for future emergencies," he said.
Ghebreyesus said the world is now seeing a plateauing in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with declines in most regions, including the Americas and Europe, the two worst-affected regions. However, he said it’s an “unacceptably high plateau,” with more than 5.4 million reported COVID-19 cases and nearly 90,000 deaths last week.
“Any decline is welcome, but we’ve been here before. Over the past year, many countries have experienced a declining trend in cases and deaths, have relaxed public health and social measures too quickly, and individuals have let down their guard only for those hard-won gains to be lost,” he said. “And cases and deaths are still increasing in WHO’s Southeast Asia region, and there are countries in every region with increasing trends.”
India is still struggling to combat its record-breaking outbreak. To help, Ghebreyesus announced that the WHO is launching the Together for India appeal to raise funds to support the organization’s work in the country, including the purchase of oxygen, personal protective equipment and medicines.
Ghebreyesus said there will come a time when we can all take our masks off, no longer practice social distancing and go to crowded events. But for most of the world’s population who aren’t yet vaccinated, they’re not there yet.
"How quickly we end the COVID-19 pandemic and how many sisters and brothers we lose along on the way depends on how quickly and how fairly we vaccinate a significant proportion of the global population, and how consistently we all follow proven public health measures,” he said.