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WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At The Biennial African Union Regional Meeting Of Ministers Of Finance And Health

 GENEVA, 17 November 2020 / PRN Africa / -- Excellencies, Ministers, esteemed colleagues and friends,

Good morning to all of you and thank you for the opportunity of sharing a few reflections today.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a heavy toll on lives, livelihoods, societies and economies.


As you know, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were all deeply concerned about the potential impact of the virus on African countries.

But so far, most African countries have succeeded in preventing or containing widespread community transmission, and I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the African Union for its commendable leadership in the response to COVID-19.

Nevertheless, 1.4 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 31 thousand deaths have been reported to WHO from the African region.

All countries must remain vigilant and there can be no place for complacency. The virus is still circulating and most people remain susceptible.

Even though the worst health effects have so far been avoided in Africa, the social and economic consequences have been severe.

Livelihoods have been lost, and the pandemic threatens to undo the gains we have made in recent years.


According to the World Bank, sub-Saharan Africa is now in its first recession for 25 years, and in June the International Monetary Fund predicted that the sub-Saharan economy will contract by 3.2% this year.

Rising health spending and falling tax revenues suggest that many countries may be heading towards a new debt crisis that could impede the capacity of governments to spend on health even as economies recover.

I join the call to the international community and international financial institutions to consider measures such as debt relief or restructuring to enable poorer countries to ease the adjustment of their public finances so that health and other social spending can be sustained.

And in this context I wish to commend the work of the African Union Special Envoys for COVID-19; I met with them last month to discuss collaboration and we agreed that our meetings shall be organised on a regular basis, moving forward. And I thank Donald Kaberuka for inviting me, and for his leadership.


But fiscal measures alone will not be enough. The world will recover faster and the crisis will be shortened through investing in critical global public health measures.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has been providing the world with the evidence-based tools it needs to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19.

At the same time, we knew that new tools would be needed to bring the pandemic under control.

That's why WHO proposed the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, to develop vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics fast, and allocate them fairly.


Together with our partners in the COVAX facility, we're also working to ensure that once a vaccine is approved, it's available equitably to all countries.

In some public debate, how countries respond to the pandemic has been framed as a choice between health and the economy. But that's a false choice. We do not have to choose between lives and livelihoods.

Far from being a choice between health and the economy, the pandemic has shown us that they are integrated and inter-dependent.

We need a new narrative that sees health not as a cost, but an investment that is the foundation of productive, resilient and stable economies.

To move forward, WHO is establishing a new Council on the Economics of Health for All, to focus on the links between health and sustainable, inclusive and innovation-led economic growth.


The council will comprise leading economists and health experts, and will be chaired by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at the University of London, and the Founding Director of the university's Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose.

The pandemic also underlines why the Addis Ababa Call to Action signed by African Union countries last year is so important.

WHO remains firmly committed to working with the African Union, building on the Memorandum of Understanding we signed exactly one year ago, to implement the Addis Ababa Call to Action, to strengthen collaboration with the Africa CDC, and to establish the African Medicines Agency.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis unlike anything any of us have experienced in our lifetimes.

But it must also be a turning point for all of us; a catalyst for building the healthier, safer, fairer and more sustainable Africa we all want.

Thank you so much.



SOURCE World Health Organization (WHO)

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