The World Health Organization on Monday kicked off its first-ever virtual assembly, with countries calling for a joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic and for any vaccine to be a “global public good“. The World Health Assembly (WHA) has been trimmed from the usual three weeks to just two days. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the event, saying several nations had ignored the WHO’s recommendations.
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“We have come together as the nations of the world to confront the defining health crisis of our time,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the assembly.
But he stressed there was no need to dramatically overhaul the WHO, saying the need of the hour was to “strengthen, implement and finance the systems and organizations it has — including WHO.”The resolution also calls for the WHO to work closely with other international agencies and countries to identify the animal source of the virus and figure out how it first jumped to humans.
Countries are also calling for a reform of the UN health body to ensure it is better prepared to address future pandemics. It will focus almost solely on COVID-19, which in a matter of months has killed over 315,000 globally, and infected more than 4.7 million.
“Different countries have followed different, sometimes contradictory, strategies and we are all paying a heavy price,” he warned in a video address.But the chance of reaching agreement on global measures to address the crisis could be threatened by steadily deteriorating relations between the world’s two largest economies over the pandemic.
An EU source hailed the draft as “ambitious”, and pointed out that if it passes by consensus as expected, it would mark the first time a global forum has achieved unanimous support for a text on the COVID-19 response. While diplomats have agreed in principle on the draft resolution, observers voiced concern that in the current politicized atmosphere, some countries might still choose to break the consensus next week.
“COVID-19 must be a wake-up call. It is time for an end to the hubris,” he said. “Either we get through this pandemic together, or we fail.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping voiced support for a joint approach, vowing in his address to make any vaccine his country developed open for all.
“After the research and development of China’s coronavirus vaccine is completed and it is put into use, it will be made a global public good,” said Xi, whose country currently has five potential vaccines in clinical trials.
French President Emmanuel Macron said any vaccine must “be a global public good,” while German Chancellor Angel Merkel insisted it “should of course be available and affordable to all.”
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