Geneva – The Antigua and Barbuda government appealed on Monday for the World Health Assembly (WHA) to commit to an urgent and binding implementation plan in order to “arrest the tragedies” of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed millions of people and infected several more millions worldwide since 2019.
In a recorded address to the 74th WHA, taking place virtually, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the organisation must also agree to comprehensive and decisive action in dealing with the pandemic that has killed 42 people and infected 1,257 in his homeland.
Browne told the WHA that if action is not taken, “our one world will be injured irreparably with profound repercussions for all”.
The WHO Assembly was expected to address a number of issues, including a more effective and efficient World Health Organisation (WHO) providing better support to countries, health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Mental Health preparedness for and response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the WHO immunisation agenda 2030.
Prime Minister Browne, who is among a small group of selected leaders to address the high-level segment, along with WHO director general Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, also raised the issue of vaccine equity, which he said is critical to achieving global herd immunity and to contain the emergence of deadlier and more debilitating COVID-19 variants.
Browne also spoke on the issue of vaccine production calling on pharmaceutical companies to increase their production, which he said will mean more and faster inoculations of the global community.
In his address, Prime Minister Browne appealed for the relaxation of travel restrictions for vulnerable small states and rectification of the qualifications for access to the COVAX facility.
COVAX is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi and the WHO, alongside key delivery partner, UNICEF. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.
Browne told the WHA that account must be taken of the profound vulnerabilities of small island states, which should be one of the determinants for vaccine accessibility.
Antigua & Barbuda is also being represented at the WHA by the Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Sir Molwyn Joseph and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Rhonda Sealey-Thomas.
The WHA, which ends on June 1, is being under the theme, “Ending this pandemic, preventing the next: building together a healthier, safe and fairer world.”
In his address to the WHA, UN Secretary General, António Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a tsunami of suffering.
He said more than 3.4 million lives have been lost, an estimated 500 million jobs have gone and trillions of dollars have been wiped from global balance sheets.
“The most vulnerable are suffering most and I fear this is far from over,” he said. “I pay tribute to the frontline health workers who are the heroes of this pandemic. Millions of healthcare professionals continue to put themselves in harm’s way every day. We owe them our deepest appreciation.”
Guterres said from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he has warned of the dangers of a two-speed global response.
“Sadly, unless we act now, we face a situation in which rich countries vaccinate the majority of their people and open their economies, while the virus continues to cause deep suffering by circling and mutating in the poorest countries,” he said. “Further spikes and surges could claim hundreds of thousands of lives, and slow the global economic recovery.
“COVID-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time. We need coordinated global action in three areas to put the world on the path towards recovery, and to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.”
Guterras said the world must respond resolutely and in solidarity to stop the virus.
“World leaders must urgently step up with a global plan for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments,” he said. “This starts with funding the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility, to deploy lifesaving tools to the poorest countries on a global scale.”