WHO chief says newly-reported cases of COVID-19 are declining, but new infections, deaths remain high
Tedros Adhanom GhebreyesusFile photo

WHO chief says newly-reported cases of COVID-19 are declining, but new infections, deaths remain high

Geneva, June 22, 2021

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that, while, globally, newly-reported cases of COVID-19 have now declined for 8 weeks in a row, and deaths have declined for 7 weeks in a row, new infections and deaths remain high.

"Last week, more than 2.5 million cases and almost 64 thousand deaths were reported – that’s 250 cases and six deaths every minute, that we know of," he said at a media briefing here on Monday.

He said the rate of decline in most regions has slowed, and every region has countries that are seeing a rapid increase in cases and deaths.

In Africa, the number of cases and deaths increased by almost 40% in the past week, and in some countries the number of deaths tripled or quadrupled, he said.

Ghebreyesus said that, while a handful of countries have high vaccination rates and are now seeing lower numbers of hospitalisations and deaths, other countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia are now facing steep epidemics.

"These cases and deaths are largely avoidable. There are several reasons for these increases, including the increased spread of variants of concern, more social mixing, ineffective use of public health and social measures and vaccine inequity," he said.

The WHO chief said that the inequitable access to vaccines has demonstrated that, in a crisis, low-income countries cannot rely on vaccine-producing countries to supply their needs.

"We have seen it before with HIV, when people in low- and middle-income countries couldn’t access lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.

"We have seen it with diabetes, where insulin is priced high despite having been around for more than a century.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that relying on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous," he said.

Ghebreyesus said that, to boost manufacturing, WHO has continued to call for the sharing of know-how, technology and licenses, and the waiving of intellectual property rights.

Enhancing local production of health products has been an area of focus for WHO for several years, but the pandemic has brought it into even sharper focus, he said.

He noted that, just a few weeks ago, the World Health Assembly had adopted a landmark resolution on strengthening local production of medicines and other health technologies to improve access.

"And today, I joined the World Local Production Forum, which aims to strengthen production capacity where it exists, and to build it where it is lacking.

"In April, WHO issued a call for expressions of interest to establish technology transfer hubs for COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

"Tech-transfer hubs are training facilities where manufacturers from low- and lower-middle income countries can receive training in how to produce certain vaccines, and the relevant licenses to do so," he said.

Ghebreyesus said mRNA technology has been in development for decades, and is the basis for at least two safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.

"It’s potentially easier to scale than other vaccine technologies and could be faster and easier to adapt to variants of concern.

"Following our call for expressions of interest, we received more than 50 proposals, about half of which were from companies or institutions interested in receiving technology, and half were interested in providing the technology, or acting as the training hub, or both," he said.

He announced that WHO is in discussions with a consortium of companies and institutions to establish a technology transfer hub in South Africa.

The consortium involves a company called Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, which will act as the hub both by manufacturing mRNA vaccines itself and by providing training to a second manufacturer called Biovac. In time, Afrigen could provide training to other manufacturers in Africa and beyond, he said.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will provide guidance through the Partnership for African Vaccines Manufacturing.

WHO is facilitating this effort by establishing the criteria for the technology transfer, assessing the applications, developing standards and providing ongoing support and training.

WHO is now in negotiations with several companies that have indicated interest in providing their mRNA technology to the hub.

"This selection will be based on how advanced the technology is, in terms of clinical efficacy data, and on the terms under which the company is willing to share its technology.

"In the coming weeks, we will continue to assess proposals for other tech-transfer hubs for mRNA and other technology platforms.

"It’s important to emphasise that this is an important step that will yield results in the medium-term. In the short-term, we need to do everything possible to increase the equitable production and distribution of vaccines, through COVAX," he said.

"WHO’s primary focus remains supporting countries to suppress transmission, save lives and end this pandemic. At the same time, we must all use this opportunity to prepare for the future, by building capacities for our children and their children," he added.

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