21 May 2021
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Global Health Summit, held online today:
From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I warned that no one is safe until everyone is safe. I was deeply concerned by the possibility of a dangerous two-speed response. Sadly, that concern was justified.
Grossly unequal access to vaccines, tests, medicines and supplies, including oxygen, have left poorer countries at the mercy of the virus. Recent surges of COVID-19 in India, South America and other regions have left people literally gasping for breath before our eyes. The pandemic is still very much with us, thriving and mutating. As winter approaches in the global South, I fear the worst is yet to come.
Vaccinating quickly and thoroughly around the world, together with continued public health measures, are the only way to end the pandemic and prevent more dangerous variants from gaining a foothold. But, so far, more than 82 per cent of the world’s vaccine doses have gone to affluent countries. Just 0.3 per cent have gone to low-income countries.
The Group of 20 Rome Declaration is a significant step to provide equal access to vaccines. But, we need a follow-up mechanism, backed by the political will to translate the declaration into a global vaccination plan. We have many initiatives, but we must make sure that they add instead of subtract. We must make sure that there is a coordination at those different initiatives, some of them just announced today.
I repeat my call for the G20 to set up a task force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities, the World Health Organization, the ACT-Accelerator partners and international financial institutions, able to deal with the pharmaceutical companies and other key stakeholders. The task force should address equitable global distribution by using the COVAX Facility.
It should aim to at least double manufacturing capacity by exploring all options, from voluntary licenses and technology transfers to patent pooling and flexibility on intellectual property rights. The G20 task force should be co-convened at the highest levels by the major powers who hold most of the global supply and production capacity, together with the multilateral system.
I am ready to mobilize the entire United Nations System to support this effort. The task force must also leverage the ACT-Accelerator and its COVAX Facility.
Let’s be clear, we are at war with the virus. And if you are at war with the virus, we need to deal with our weapons with rules of a war economy, and we are not yet there. And this is true for vaccines, and it is true for other components in the fight against the virus. By now, COVAX should have delivered 170 million doses around the world. But, due to vaccine nationalism, limited production capacity and lack of funding, that figure is just 65 million.
I call on G20 countries to lead by example and contribute their full share of funding. An investment of billions could end up saving trillions — and saving lives.
A global coordinated effort on vaccines can end this pandemic. But, it will not help prevent the next. I fully support last week’s bold recommendations from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The world needs political commitment at the highest level to take internationally coordinated, cross-cutting measures and transform global pandemic preparedness.
The bedrock of the recovery from COVID-19, and of preventing and addressing future health crises, is universal health coverage and robust primary health care systems. These are essential to achieve SDG3 and the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
It is time for decisive action. I urge G20 countries, in collaboration with the United Nations, to assume a strong leadership role in ending this devastating global pandemic. Together, we can and we must build a healthier, safer, fairer and more sustainable world. Thank you.