By Asmau Ahmad
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says a third of the world’s population has yet to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine, including a shocking 83 per cent of all Africans.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said in a statement: “This is not acceptable to me, and it should not be acceptable to anyone. Are some lives worth more than others?”
He said WHO was launching a new strategy to scale up genomic surveillance, for deadly pathogens that had “epidemic and pandemic potential” to tackle future threat of the virus.
According to him, COVID-19 has now taken well over six million lives and infected no fewer than 483 million people.
He also said the UN health agency had unveiled the updated Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan for COVID-19.
“This is our third strategic plan for COVID-19, and it could and should be our last”, he said, laying out three possible scenarios for how the pandemic could evolve this year.
“The most likely scenario is that the virus continues to evolve, but the severity of disease it causes reduces over time as immunity increases due to vaccination and infection.
“Periodic spikes in cases and deaths may occur as immunity wanes, which may require periodic boosting for vulnerable populations.
“In the best-case scenario, we may see less severe variants emerge, and boosters or new formulations of vaccines won’t be necessary.”
But, in the worst-case scenario, a more virulent and highly transmissible variant could emerge, sooner or later, and against this new threat, people’s protection against severe disease and death, from prior vaccination or infection, “will wane rapidly”, he warned.
According to him, addressing this situation will require significantly altering the current vaccines and making sure they get to the people who are most vulnerable to severe disease.
In addition, he said equitable vaccination remained the single most powerful tool at the world’s disposal, to save lives.
“Striving to vaccinate 70 per cent of the population of every country remains essential for bringing the pandemic under control, with priority given to health workers, older people and other at-risk groups.’’
Over 24 million people will need humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan this year, he said, and they face displacement, drought, food insecurity and malnutrition, COVID-19, and many other health challenges.
Women and girls are especially at risk, he added, from lack of access to health services, and lack of access to education, describing last week’s failure to backtrack on opening middle and high schools for girls as “very troubling”.
For the millions whose lives and basic healthcare is at risk due to the raging conflict in northern Ethiopia, Ghebreyesus welcomed last week’s declaration of a humanitarian truce in the region – between Tigrayan leaders and Government forces in order to allow in vital aid.
He hoped it would lead to the rapid restoration of public services, including electricity, telecommunications, banking and healthcare.
“However, a week has passed since the truce was announced, but no food has been allowed into Tigray yet,’’ he said.
“Every hour makes a difference when people are starving to death. No food has reached Tigray since mid-December, and almost no fuel has been delivered since August of last year.
“The siege of six million people in Tigray by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces for more than 500 days, is one of the longest in modern history.
“Sustaining WHO’s response to all of these emergencies, from the COVID-19 pandemic, to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and more, requires the generosity of donors,” he added.
Under WHO’s Global Health Emergency Appeal for 2022, he noted that 2.7 billion dollars was needed “to save lives and alleviate suffering around the world.”