WHO and UNICEF warn of a decline in vaccinations during COVID-19

15 Jul

GENEVA/NEW YORK, 15 July 2020 – The World Health Organization and UNICEF warned today of an alarming decline in the number of children receiving life-saving vaccines around the world. This is due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunization services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to new data by WHO and UNICEF, these disruptions threaten to reverse hard-won progress to reach more children and adolescents with a wider range of vaccines, which has already been hampered by a decade of stalling coverage.

The latest data on vaccine coverage estimates from WHO and UNICEF for 2019 shows that improvements such as the expansion of the HPV vaccine to 106 countries and greater protection for children against more diseases are in danger of lapsing. For example, preliminary data for the first four months of 2020 points to a substantial drop in the number of children completing three doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP3). This is the first time in 28 years that the world could see a reduction in DTP3 coverage – the marker for immunization coverage within and across countries.

“Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools in the history of public health, and more children are now being immunized than ever before,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But the pandemic has put those gains at risk. The avoidable suffering and death caused by children missing out on routine immunizations could be far greater than COVID-19 itself. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Vaccines can be delivered safely even during the pandemic, and we are calling on countries to ensure these essential life-saving programmes continue.”

COVID-19 disruptions

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least 30 measles vaccination campaigns were or are at risk of being cancelled, which could result in further outbreaks in 2020 and beyond. According to a new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey,  conducted in collaboration with the US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, three quarters of the 82 countries that responded reported COVID-19 related disruptions in their immunization programmes as of May 2020. The reasons for disrupted services vary. Even when services are offered, people are either unable to access them because of reluctance to leave home, transport interruptions, economic hardships, restrictions on movement, or fear of being exposed to people with COVID-19. Many health workers are also unavailable because of restrictions on travel or redeployment to COVID response duties as well as a lack of protective equipment.

“COVID-19 has made previously routine vaccination a daunting challenge,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We must prevent a further deterioration in vaccine coverage and urgently resume vaccination programs before children’s lives are threatened by other diseases. We cannot trade one health crisis for another.” 

Stagnating global coverage rate

Progress on immunization coverage was stalling before COVID-19 hit, at 85 per cent for DTP3 and measles vaccines. The likelihood that a child born today will be fully vaccinated with all the globally recommended vaccines by the time she reaches the age of 5 is less than 20 per cent.

In 2019, nearly 14 million children missed out on life-saving vaccines such as measles and DTP3. Most of these children live in Africa and are likely to lack access to other health services. Two-thirds of them are concentrated in 10 middle- and low-income countries: Angola, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Philippines. Children in middle-income countries account for an increasing share of the burden.

Progress and challenges, by country and region

There has been some progress. Regional coverage for the third dose of DTP in South Asia has increased by 12 percentage points over the last 10 years, notably across India, Nepal and Pakistan. However, that hard-won progress could be undone by COVID-19 related disruptions. Countries that had recorded significant progress, such as Ethiopia and Pakistan, are now also at risk of backsliding if immunization services are not restored as soon as feasible.

The situation is especially concerning for Latin America and the Caribbean, where historically high coverage has slipped over the last decade. In Brazil, Bolivia, Haiti and Venezuela, immunization coverage plummeted by at least 14 percentage points since 2010. These countries are now also confronting moderate to severe COVID19-related disruptions.  

As the global health community attempts to recover lost ground due to COVID-19 related disruptions, UNICEF and WHO are supporting countries in their efforts to reimagine immunization and build back better by:

  • Restoring services so countries can safely deliver routine immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic, by adhering to hygiene and physical distancing recommendations and providing protective equipment to health workers;
  • Helping health workers communicate actively with caregivers to explain how services have been reconfigured to ensure safety;
  • Rectifying coverage and immunity gaps;
  • Expanding routine services to reach missed communities, where some of the most vulnerable children live.


Notes to editors
Download photos , the report, data files and b-roll from UNICEF here or from WHO here. After 2pm CET 15 July, read the analysis of the data in this report,Are we losing ground? or browse the full vaccine coverage datasets from UNICEF or at WHO’s webpage.  Review presentation and graphs related to the data here.

About the data


Every year, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) produce a new round of immunization coverage estimates for 195 countries, enabling a critical assessment of how well we are doing in reaching every child with life-saving vaccines.  In addition to producing the immunization coverage estimates for 2019, the WHO and UNICEF estimation process revises the entire historical series of immunization data with the latest available information. The 2019 revision covers 39 years of coverage estimates, from 1980 to 2019. DTP3 coverage is used as an indicator to assess the proportion of children vaccinated and is calculated for children under one year of age. The estimated number of vaccinated children are calculated using population data provided by the 2019 World Population Prospects (WPP) from the UN. Fact sheet.


The new UNICEF, WHO and Gavi pulse survey was conducted in collaboration with US Centers for Disease Control, the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in June 2020. Respondents from 82 countries, including 14 with lower than 80 per cent vaccination coverage rates in 2019, reported on disruptions in immunization services due to COVID-19 as of May 2020.  The online immunization pulse survey received responses from 260 immunization experts, including representatives of Ministries of Health, academia and global health organizations across 82 countries. A previous pulse poll, conducted in April received 801 responses from 107 countries, showed that disruption to the routine immunization programs were already widespread and affected all regions. 64 per cent of countries represented in that poll indicated that routine immunizations had been disrupted or even suspended.

The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. Our goal for 2019-2023 is to ensure that a billion more people have universal health coverage, to protect a billion more people from health emergencies, and provide a further billion people with better health and wellbeing. For updates on COVID-19 and public health advice to protect yourself from coronavirus, visit www.who.int and follow WHO on TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedInTikTokPinterestSnapchatYouTube.

More on vaccines and immunization

Guiding principles for immunization activities during the COVID-19

How WHO is supporting ongoing vaccination efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic

The vaccines success story gives us hope for the future

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org. For more information about COVID-19, visit www.unicef.org/coronavirus. Information on UNICEF’s Immunization programme, available here. Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook.



#EndTB Webinar: From Policy to Practice: Rolling out new WHO guidelines on rapid diagnostics and drug-resistant TB treatment

14 Jul

A special #EndTB Webinar was organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 9 July 2020 to provide key updates on recently released new WHO guidance on rapid diagnostics and drug-resistant TB treatment. The aim of the webinar was to facilitate a better understanding of the guidance to enable its rapid uptake in countries by national programmes and other key stakeholders. This will translate to earlier access to quality diagnosis and treatment, and better outcomes for the millions affected by TB and drug-resistant TB.

Agenda overview:

Moderator: Dr Tereza Kasaeva, Director, WHO Global TB Programme

  • Dr Matteo Zignol, Unit Head a.i. Prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care and innovation, WHO Global TB Programme
  • Mr Ezio Tavora dos Santos Filho, WHO Civil Society Taskforce on TB
  • Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director, Stop TB Partnership
  • Dr Mohammed Yassin, Senior TB Adviser, Global Fund
  • Dr Mukadi Ya Diul, Medical Officer Infectious Disease Office/Tuberculosis Division,Global Health Bureau, USAID
  • Dr Alena Skrahina, Deputy Director of the Republican Scientific and Practical Center for Pulmonology and TB and Deputy National TB Program Manager, Belarus
  • Dr Norbert O. Ndjeka, Director DR-TB and TB/HIV, Department of Health, South Africa
  • Dr K. S. Sachdeva, Deputy Director General, TB Elimination Programme, India
Closing remarks: Dr Ren Minghui, WHO Assistant Director General, UHC, Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases

Watch the Webinar:

Globally, diagnosis of TB and drug-resistant TB remains a challenge with a third of people with TB and two-thirds of people with drug-resistant TB not being detected. Appropriate treatment of drug-resistant TB with all-oral regimens also needs to be made available to to all who need it in line with WHO’s quest to achieve universal health coverage, and to avert deaths from a preventable, treatable and curable disease. This is also essential to achieve the targets of the political declaration of the UN high-level meeting, the WHO End TB Strategy, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the triple billion targets of WHO’s General Programme of Work.


As more go hungry and malnutrition persists, achieving Zero Hunger by 2030 in doubt, UN report warns

13 Jul

Rome – More people are going hungry, an annual study by the United Nations has found. Tens of millions have joined  the ranks of the chronically undernourished over the past five years, and countries around the world continue to struggle with multiple forms of malnutrition.

The latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, published today, estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. The hungry are most numerous in Asia, but expanding fastest in Africa. Across the planet, the report forecasts, the COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. (Flare-ups of acute hunger in the pandemic context may see this number escalate further at times.)

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the most authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition. It is produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Writing in the foreword, the heads of the five agencies warn that “five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030".

The hunger numbers explained

In this edition, critical data updates for China and other populous countriesii have led to a substantial cut in estimates of the global number of hungry people, to the current 690 million. Nevertheless, there has been no change in the trend. Revising the entire hunger series back to the year 2000 yields the same conclusion: after steadily diminishing for decades, chronic hunger slowly began to rise in 2014 and continues to do so.

Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished (381 million). Africa is second (250 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (48 million). The global prevalence of undernourishment – or overall percentage of hungry people – has changed little at 8.9 percent, but the absolute numbers have been rising since 2014. This means that over the last five years, hunger has grown in step with the global population.

This, in turn, hides great regional disparities: in percentage terms, Africa is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 percent of its people undernourished. This is more than double the rate in Asia (8.3 percent) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (7.4 percent). On current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry.


The pandemic’s toll

As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems – understood as all the activities and processes affecting the production, distribution and consumption of food. While it is too soon to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures, the report estimates that at a minimum, another 83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020 as a result of the economic recession triggered by COVID-19.iii The setback throws into further doubt the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger).


Unhealthy diets, food insecurity and malnutrition

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in all its forms (including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity) is about more than securing enough food to survive: what people eat – and especially what children eat – must also be nutritious. Yet a key obstacle is the high cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of families.

The report presents evidence that a healthy diet costs far more than US$ 1.90/day, the international poverty threshold. It puts the price of even the least expensive healthy diet at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only. Nutrient-rich dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods (plant and animal-sourced) are the most expensive food groups globally.

The latest estimates are that a staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57 percent of the population – though no region, including North America and Europe, is spared. Partly as a result, the race to end malnutrition appears compromised. According to the report, in 2019, between a quarter and a third of children under five (191 million) were stunted or wasted – too short or too thin. Another 38 million under-fives were overweight. Among adults, meanwhile, obesity has become a global pandemic in its own right.


A call to action

The report argues that once sustainability considerations are factored in, a global switch to healthy diets would help check the backslide into hunger while delivering enormous savings. It calculates that such a shift would allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, estimated to reach US$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030, to be almost entirely offset; while the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at US$ 1.7 trillion, could be cut by up to three-quarters.iv The report urges a transformation of food systems to reduce the cost of nutritious foods and

increase the affordability of healthy diets. While the specific solutions will differ from country to country, and even within them, the overall answers lie with interventions along the entire food supply chain, in the food environment, and in the political economy that shapes trade, public expenditure and investment policies. The study calls on governments to mainstream nutrition in their approaches to agriculture; work to cut cost-escalating factors in the production, storage,
transport, distribution and marketing of food – including by reducing inefficiencies and food loss and waste; support local small-scale producers to grow and sell more nutritious foods, and secure their access to markets; prioritize children’s nutrition as the category in greatest need; foster behaviour change through education and communication; and embed nutrition in national social protection systems and investment strategies.

The heads of the five UN agencies behind the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World declare their commitment to support this momentous shift, ensuring that it unfolds “in a sustainable way, for people and the planet.”

Media contacts for interview requests (several languages are covered):
FAO – Andre VORNIC, +39 345 870 6985, andre.vornic@fao.org
IFAD – Antonia PARADELA, +34 605 398 109, a.paradelatorices@ifad.org
UNICEF – Sabrina SIDHU, +1 917 476 1537, ssidhu@unicef.org
WFP – Martin PENNER, +39 345 614 2074, martin.penner@wfp.org
WHO – Fadela CHAIB, +41 79 475 5556, chaibf@who.int


i For FAO – Qu Dongyu, Director-General; for IFAD – Gilbert F. Houngbo, President; for UNICEF – Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director; for WFP – David Beasley, Executive Director; for WHO – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General.

ii Updates to a key parameter, which measures inequality in food consumption within societies, have been made for 13 countries whose combined population approaches 2.5 billion people: Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Sudan and Thailand. The size of China’s population, in particular, has had the single largest impact on global numbers.

iii This range corresponds to the most recent expectations of a 4.9 to 10 percent drop in global GDP.

iv The report analyses the “hidden costs” of unhealthy diets and models options involving four alternative
diets: flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan. It also acknowledges that some poorer countries’ carbon
emissions may initially need to rise to allow them to reach nutrition targets. (The opposite is true of richer







Poor quality medicines putting the lives of pregnant women at risk

10 Jul


Good-quality medicines, given at the right time, can save the lives of pregnant and recently pregnant women and their newborn babies. New evidence synthesis reveals however, that in many health-care settings across the world, women with life-threatening maternal complications are given poor quality medicines – putting their lives and well-being at grave risk.

The systematic review, authored by staff at WHO Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research including HRP, and collaborators published in PLOS ONE, shows that in many low- and middle-income countries, low-quality medicines are used to manage life-threatening maternal conditions.

Maternal mortality

It is both tragic and unacceptable that so many women, particularly those living in low- and middle-income countries continue to die from causes related to health complications related to pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. The most recent estimates showed that every day in 2017, approximately 810 women died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. 

Preventable with the right treatment

Frequent life-threatening maternal complications include post-partum haemorrhage, pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, and sepsis. With timely and effective care and medications, any serious repercussions caused by these complications can often be avoided. Uterotonics (drugs used to stop bleeding, particularly for postpartum haemorrhage) such as oxytocin, are effective in preventing post-partum haemorrhage. Antibiotics administered during labour or after birth can prevent or treat sepsis for both women and their newborn babies. And magnesium sulphate can help to prevent and/ or treat eclampsia. These are medical options that are both affordable and effective.

“Out of specification” and poor-quality drugs

There are growing concerns about the negative impact upon health of substandard and falsified medicines (also known as “out of specification” drugs) particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The new systematic review shows, however, that in many health-care settings in low- and middle-income countries, poor quality versions of these drugs are often provided. The findings suggest that this problem could contribute to the persistence of the high numbers of severe complications and deaths caused by pos partum haemorrhage, eclampsia, and sepsis in low- and middle- income countries. 

The new study showed that nearly half (48.9%) of all uterotonic drugs sampled failed quality assessments. 1 in 7 injectable antibiotic samples (13%) and 1 in 29 magnesium sulphate samples (3.4%) were of low quality.

Nearly half of the samples assessed were collected since 2011, indicating that this is an issue of current global concern that requires immediate attention. The study also looked at differences in quality of medicines between the private and public sector, and found that in general, higher failure rates were in the private sector. This finding underlines the crucial need for national procurement bodies or private providers to procure medications that adhere to WHO prequalification, or similar stringent requirements.

Quality and dignity

Every woman has the right to quality care before, during and following pregnancy and childbirth. The informed provision of good quality medicines, at the right time, is crucial for ensuring high quality and dignified care for women and their newborn babies.

Health-care providers need also to be able to access good quality medicines in order to properly care for women. They should also receive proper training in how and when to administer these drugs. This is crucial as they work to uphold the Hippocratic oath of ‘do no harm’.
Mariana Widmer, a Scientist at WHO and HRP, and an author of the paper reflects, “Health care workers need to be able to know they are truly caring for women, and treating any health complications of pregnancy and childbirth effectively. We need to ensure they receive training to provide medications, and that medications are always good quality.


WHO and partners to help more than 1 billion people quit tobacco to reduce risk of COVID-19

10 Jul

GENEVA — A new Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco aims to help the world's 1.3 billion tobacco users quit. Stopping smoking is more important than ever as evidence reveals that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have severe outcomes from COVID-19.

The project gives people free access to nicotine replacement therapy and to Florence, a digital health worker, based on artificial intelligence that dispels myths around COVID-19 and tobacco and helps people develop a personalized plan to quit tobacco. 

It is being led by the World Health Organization (WHO), together with the UN Interagency Task Force on Non-communicable Diseases, PATH and the Coalition for Access to NCD Medicines and Products, with support from the private sector.

The Secretariat of the WHO FCTC, salutes this initiative. The Head of the Convention Secretariat commented, “This will contribute to Parties’ implementation of Article 14 of the Convention, regarding measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation. And, as previously said: there has never been a more appropriate time to support people in their efforts to quit tobacco use.”

Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion said that, "We welcome the support of pharmaceutical and tech companies to improve people's health and save lives during COVID-19. The partnership highlights what we can achieve when we work together both to end the pandemic and, moving forward, to build back better."

WHO received its first-ever donation of nicotine replacement therapies for the project from Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health. The manufacturer has donated 37,800 nicotine patches to help 5,400 people in Jordan quit smoking. These efforts will help WHO respond to the ongoing pandemic and improve health outcomes.

Florence was created with technology developed by San Francisco and New Zealand based Digital People company Soul Machines, with support from Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.

Jordan, which has some of the highest tobacco use rates in the world, will be the first pilot country with additional companies and countries to join in discussion. HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, President for the International Union of Cancer Control said, “I am pleased that Jordan is part of this initiative, which will help advocate for tobacco control and support civil society organizations in their continued efforts for a healthier smoke-free future for Jordan.”

Just last week the Government of Jordan adopted a ban on smoking and vaping indoors in public places. The link between smoking and COVID-19 make it essential for governments to pass comprehensive tobacco control laws that will protect the health of their people during this pandemic and beyond.

Although around 60% of tobacco users worldwide say they want to quit, only 30% of them have access to the tools that can help them do so The Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco is designed to deliver tobacco cessation services that will help people overcome both physical and mental addictions to tobacco


(click on image to download infographic in PDF)


Study estimates more than one million Indians died from snakebite envenoming over past two decades

10 Jul

India is among the countries most dramatically affected by snakebite and accounts for almost half the total number of annual deaths in the world. Authors of the article entitled Trends in snakebite mortality in India from 2000 to 2019 in a nationally representative mortality study’ analysed 2,833 snakebite deaths from 611,483 verbal autopsies from an earlier study1 and conducted a systematic literature review from 2000-2019 covering 87,590 snake bites.

The authors estimated that India had 1.2 million snakebite deaths (representing an average of 58,000 per year) from 2000 to 2019 with nearly half of the victims aged 30-69 and over a quarter being children under 15.

People living in densely populated low altitude agricultural areas in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh (which includes Telangana, a recently defined state), Rajasthan and Gujarat, suffered 70% of deaths during the period 2001-2014, particularly during the rainy season when encounters between snakes and humans are more frequent at home and outdoors.

Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) (Figure 1), kraits (Bungarus species) and cobras (Naja species; Figure 2) are among the most important biting snake species in India, yet other often unidentified species also represent a threat. 

         Figure 1: Russel's Viper                                                       Figure 2: Speckled Cobra in a field near an
      (Source: David Williams/WHO)                                               agricultural worker. (Source: Ben Owens)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the target of reducing by half the number of deaths due to snakebite envenoming by 2030 and India’s efforts to prevent and control this disease will largely influence this global target.

 Since deaths are restricted mainly to lower altitude, intensely agricultural areas, during a single season of each year, this should make the annual epidemics easier to manage. India’s tremendous snakebite burden is staring us in the face and we need to act now” said Romulus Whitaker of the Centre for Herpetology/Madras Crocodile Bank. “Targeting these areas with education about simple methods, such as ‘snake-safe’ harvest practices, wearing rubber boots and gloves and using rechargeable torches (or mobile phone flashlights) could reduce the risk of snakebites.”

Need for more nationwide epidemiological studies in snakebite endemic countries

Additional nationally representative studies together with increasing mapping resolution and multi-sourced data granularity, including both hospital-based mortality and morbidity data including those collected at the community level, are needed for more targeted and effective public health interventions in other snakebite endemic countries.

The authors also noted that the Government of India’s official declaration of snakebite deaths in public hospitals during the period 2003 to 2015 was only 15,500, one tenth of the 154,000 snakebite deaths detected during this same period by the MDS from public and private hospitals.

Our study directly quantified and identified the populations most affected by fatal snakebites in India. We showed that the overall lifetime risk of being killed by snakebite is about 1 in 250, but in some areas, the lifetime risk reaches 1 in 100” said Prabhat Jha, Director of the Centre for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto, Canada. “Ongoing direct measurement of mortality at local levels is key to achieving WHO’s global roadmap.”

To repair this gross under-reporting, the authors recommend that the Government of India designate and enforce snakebite as a ‘Notifiable Disease’ within the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program. Accurate snakebite data are essential if the Government of India’s strategies to reduce snakebite deaths are to succeed.  


1Snakebite Mortality in India: A Nationally Representative Mortality Survey published in PLoS in 2011 and based on the Indian Million Death Study estimated 46,000 annual deaths caused by snakebite in India.



Independent evaluation of global COVID-19 response announced

10 Jul

WHO Director-General today announced the initiation of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) to evaluate the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In remarks to WHO Member States, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Panel will be co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Prime Minister Clark went to on lead the United Nations Development Programme and President Sirleaf is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Operating independently, they will choose other Panel members as well as members of an independent secretariat to provide support. 

“Prime Minister Clark and President Sirleaf were selected through a process of broad consultation with Member States and world experts. I cannot imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process.” said Dr. Tedros in his speech.

At the historic 73rd World Health Assembly in May, Member States adopted a landmark resolution that called on WHO to initiate an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19.

“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” said Dr Tedros. “The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation.”   

Dr Tedros proposed that a Special Session of the Executive Board be called in September to discuss the Panel’s progress. In November the Panel will present an interim report at the resumption of the World Health Assembly.

In January 2021, the Executive Board will hold its regular session, where the Panel’s work will be further discussed; and in May of next year, at the World Health Assembly, the panel will present its substantive report.

The Director-General noted that the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme will also continue its existing work.

“Even as we fight this pandemic, we must be readying ourselves for future global outbreaks and the many other challenges of our time such as antimicrobial resistance, inequality and the climate crisis,” said Dr Tedros. “COVID-19 has taken so much from us. But it is also giving us an opportunity to break with the past and build back better.” 


Addressing the crisis in antibiotic development

9 Jul

Today, more than 20 leading biopharmaceutical companies are announcing the launch of the AMR Action Fund that will invest in developing innovative antibacterial treatments. The Fund aims to bring 2-4 new treatments to patients by 2030. This initiative is a significant step towards addressing the current crisis in antibacterial treatment development.

“AMR is a slow tsunami that threatens to undo a century of medical progress” highlighted Dr Tedros, Director General of the WHO at the launch event in Berlin. “I very much welcome this new engagement of the private sector in the development of urgently-needed antibacterial treatments. WHO looks forward to working with the AMR Action Fund to accelerate research to address this public health crisis.”

The AMR Action Fund is the result of collaboration among major pharmaceutical companies, the European Investment Bank (EIB), Wellcome Trust and WHO. Since 2018, WHO and the EIB have been advancing an overall concept for an impact investment fund to support the development of antibacterial treatment for public health priorities. This concept was presented and discussed in several international fora including at the Biocom AMR Conference, the World Health Summit  in Berlin, and the World AMR Congress in Washington.

In 2019, a financial model was developed to assess the risks, success rates and the potential financial return of investment in new antibacterial treatments. WHO then played a catalytic role in bringing together the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, the EIB and Wellcome Trust, providing critical input on the public health priorities and the investment strategy of the AMR Action Fund.

Recent bankruptcies have shown how small antibiotics companies struggle to survive in the current market environment. The process of getting new drugs to market is cost intensive as new antibacterial treatments have to be underpinned with rigorous data that are derived from a series of complex and costly clinical trials to demonstrate their advantages over existing treatment regimens.

The AMR Action Fund will invest, through equity or debt, in small companies developing innovative antibacterial treatments that target existing public health priorities. The annual reviews conducted by WHO of both the preclinical and clinical antibiotic pipeline, together with the recently published target product profiles for missing treatments, will provide detailed guidance in this regard.

The WHO review of the clinical antibiotic pipeline identifies a number of potential investment candidates. Currently, there are only 32 antibacterial treatments, in clinical development, targeting the WHO’s list of priority pathogens and of these, only 6 fulfil at least one of the innovation criteria as defined by WHO.

The latest WHO review of the preclinical pipeline revealed that new and innovative approaches are emerging in the development of antibacterial agents; of the 252 antibacterial agents that were in preclinical development, over one-third were non-traditional products.  The next WHO clinical pipeline review will expand to include non-traditional products such as phages and other new innovative approaches to overcome antibacterial resistance.

 “Investment to ensure promising antibacterial treatments successfully move through to market is a critical step in tackling AMR,” said Dr Haileyesus Getahun, Director of the Department of Global Coordination and Partnership on AMR at WHO. ‘’WHO stands ready to support the AMR Action Fund in its focus on public health priorities and innovative new antibacterial treatments.’’

While the AMR Action Fund is an important step in addressing the challenge of AMR, it will only partly compensate for the rapidly diminishing flow of investment from the private sector and from public funding. Partnerships like the AMR Action Fund, CARB-X and the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership (GARDP), bring together relevant stakeholders and play a crucial synergistic role in improving the current pipeline of antibacterial treatments. GARDP, a foundation that was set up by WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) to develop new treatments for drug-resistant infections posing the greatest threat to public health, is playing an important role in mobilizing more funding from both public and private sectors for public health priorities. GARDP recently partnered with a small company on an innovative beta-lactamase inhibitor that works against serious multidrug resistant bacterial infections.

The launch of the AMR Action Fund represents an important step towards revitalizing antibacterial drug development and also creates the opportunity to address the much needed reforms of the current procurement and reimbursement systems for new treatments. 


UN Public Service Day

8 Jul

Honouring the public servants who have been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether working in healthcare or delivering essential services in the areas of sanitation, social welfare, education, postal delivery, transport, law enforcement, and more, public servants globally have continued to work in the community as many people shelter at home, risking their lives to ensure ours can continue.

The United Nations will mark Public Service Day on 23 June to honour the women and men who are risking their lives and health to deliver essential public services amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

A virtual event will bring together public servants and leaders to discuss the importance of the continuation of public service provision during times of pandemic. In doing so, it will examine the various approaches countries have taken during the crisis while looking at what measures they are undertaking to better mitigate such challenges in the future.

The event will also include an orchestral piece performed by the UN Orchestra and feature a video showcasing public servants in action developed from over 80 submissions received from public servants at national and local levels worldwide. 

Speakers include:

  • Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (video statement)
  • Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly
  • H.E. Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia
  • Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organization
  • Mr. Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs
  • H.E. Mr. Chin Young, Minister of Interior and Safety, Republic of Korea
  • Dr. In-Jae Lee, Deputy Minister of the Interior and Safety, Republic of Korea
  • H.E. Ms. K.K. Shailaja Teacher, Minister of Health of Kerala State, India
  • Mr. Jim Campbell, Director, Health Workforce Department World Health Organization
  • Ms. Annette Kennedy, President of International Council of Nurses
  • Rosa Pavenelli, General Secretary, Public Services International, 

Moderator: Ms. Odette Ramsingh, Executive Director: Human Resources, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University

How to watch

  1. Link to event
  2. DG speech




WHO experts to travel to China

7 Jul

WHO experts will travel to China to work together with their Chinese counterparts to prepare scientific plans for identifying the zoonotic source of the SARS-COV-2 virus. The experts will develop the scope and TOR for a WHO-led international mission. 

Identifying the origin of emerging viral disease has proven complex in past epidemics in different countries. A well planned series of scientific researches will advance the understanding of animal reservoirs and the route of transmission to humans. The process is an evolving endeavor which may lead to further international scientific research and collaboration globally.