WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the COVID-19 media briefing – 17 August 2022 – World Health Organization

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening. 

First, an update on the global monkeypox outbreak. More than 35,000 cases of monkeypox have now been reported to WHO, from 92 countries and territories, with 12 deaths. 

Almost 7,500 cases were reported last week, a 20% increase over the previous week, which was also 20% more than the week before. 

Almost all cases are being reported from Europe and the Americas, and almost all cases continue to be reported among men who have sex with men, underscoring the importance for all countries to design and deliver services and information tailored to these communities that protect health, human rights and dignity. 

The primary focus for all countries must be to ensure they are ready for monkeypox, and to stop transmission using effective public health tools, including enhanced disease surveillance, careful contact tracing, tailored risk communication and community engagement, and risk reduction measures. 

Vaccines may also play an important part in controlling the outbreak, and in many countries there is high demand for vaccines from the affected communities. 

However, for the moment, supplies of vaccines, and data about their effectiveness, are limited, although we are starting to receive data from some countries. 

WHO has been in close contact with the manufacturers of vaccines, and with countries and organizations who are willing to share doses. 

We remain concerned that the inequitable access to vaccines we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic will be repeated, and that the poorest will continue to be left behind. 

As we announced last week, a meeting of experts convened by WHO has agreed to rename the two known clades of monkeypox virus using Roman numerals. 

The clade formerly known as the Congo Basin or Central African clade will now be referred to as clade I, while the West African clade will be called clade II. 

Work on renaming the disease and the virus is ongoing. 

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Now to the Greater Horn of Africa, where millions of people are facing starvation and disease in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. 

Drought, conflict, climate change and increasing prices for food, fuel and fertilizer are all contributing to lack of access to sufficient food. 

Hunger and malnutrition pose a direct threat to health, but they also weaken the body’s defenses, and open the door to diseases including pneumonia, measles and cholera. 

Food insecurity also forces some people to choose between paying for food and health care. 

Many people are migrating in search of food, which can also put them at increased risk of disease, and reduced access to health services. 

While other partners are working to address the food crisis, WHO is addressing the resulting health crisis. 

We have already released more than US $16 million from the WHO Contingency Fund for Emergencies, but more is needed. 

The 123.7 million dollars we are appealing for will be used to prevent and control outbreaks, to treat malnutrition and to provide essential health services and medicines. 

In the Ethiopian region of Tigray, the drought is compounding a man-made catastrophe for 6 million people who have been under siege from Ethiopian and Eritrean forces for 21 months, sealed off from the outside world, with no telecommunications, no banking services and very limited electricity and fuel. 

As a result, the people of Tigray are facing multiple outbreaks of malaria, anthrax, cholera, diarrhea and more. 

This unimaginable cruelty must end. The only solution is peace. 

Earlier this month, a delegation from the US, European Union, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Canada visited Tigray in an effort to facilitate peace talks. 

Following their visit, the US and EU issued a joint statement saying that swift restoration of electricity, telecommunications, banking and other basic services in Tigray is essential for peace talks to go forward. So far, the government has refused.   

Since the humanitarian truce was announced in late March, some humanitarian aid has been delivered to Tigray, although nowhere near enough. 

In addition, the shortage of fuel and cash continues to be a major impediment to the distribution of aid, and to WHO’s efforts to respond to outbreaks, provide vaccination against COVID-19 and deliver other life-saving health services. 

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Finally, on COVID-19, over the past four weeks, reported deaths globally have increased by 35%. 

Just in the past week, 15,000 people around the world lost their lives to COVID-19. 

15,000 deaths a week is completely unacceptable, when we have all the tools to prevent infections and save lives. 

We’re all tired of this virus, and tired of the pandemic. But the virus is not tired of us. 

Omicron remains the dominant variant, with the BA.5 sub-variant representing more than 90% of sequences shared in the last month. 

However, the number of sequences shared per week has fallen by 90% since the beginning of this year, and the number of countries sharing sequences has dropped by 75%, making it so much harder to understand how the virus might be changing. 

With colder weather approaching in the northern hemisphere and people spending more time indoors, the risks for more intense transmission and hospitalization will only increase in the coming months – not only for COVID-19, but for other diseases including influenza. 

But none of us is helpless – please get vaccinated if you are not, and if you need a booster, get one. 

Wear a mask when you can’t distance, and try to avoid crowds, especially indoors. 

There is a lot of talk about learning to live with this virus. 

But we cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week. 

We cannot live with mounting hospitalizations and deaths. 

We cannot live with inequitable access to vaccines and other tools. 

Learning to live with COVID-19 does not mean we pretend it’s not there. It means we use the tools we have to protect ourselves, and protect others. 

Tarik, back to you.

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