The coronavirus pandemic is a test for the world, and it is failing, said the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Tokyo, on the eve of the Olympic Games.
“More than any other event, the Olympics have the power to bring the world together; to inspire; to show what is possible,” he said. “And more than any other event, they command the attention of the world’s people. And that is why I have come.”
“I have come this time – to this global mountaintop – with a message for the world’s people to hear,” Ghebreyesus said. “In fact, I have come to answer a question.”
“It’s a question I am often asked, and which the people of the world are asking: when will this pandemic end?”
“Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has asked us many questions: About ourselves; and about our world,” said Ghebreyesus. “The pandemic is a test. And the world is failing.”
In particular, he referred to the great inequality in the production, distribution and administering of vaccines against the coronavirus. “Vaccines are powerful and essential tools, but the world has not used them well.”
More than 3.5 billion vaccine doses have now been administered globally, and more than one in four people have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Ghebreyesus.
“On the surface, that’s good news. But it masks a horrifying injustice,” he said. “75% of vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. In low-income countries, only 1% of people have received at least one dose, compared with more than half of people in high-income countries.”
“Some of the richest countries are now talking about third booster shots for their populations, while health-workers, older people and other vulnerable groups in the rest of the world continue to go without.”
The global failure to share vaccines, tests, and treatments – including oxygen – is fuelling a two-track pandemic, according to the WHO. “The haves are opening up, while the have-nots are locking down.”
Ghebreyesus stressed that this is “not just a moral outrage,” but also epidemiologically and economically self-defeating.
“The longer this discrepancy persists, the longer the pandemic will drag on, and so will the social and economic turmoil it brings,” he said.”
The tragedy of this pandemic, according to Ghebreyesus, is that it could have been under control by now, if vaccines had been allocated more equitably.
“The threat is not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” he stressed. “Anyone who thinks the pandemic is over because it’s over where they live is living in a fool’s paradise.”
Additionally, Ghebreyesus reiterated the WHO target of vaccinating 70% of the population in each country by the middle of next year.