Good afternoon, and a very warm welcome to our friends from ACANU and the Geneva press corps, as we approach the end of 2022.
The past year has been another very challenging year for the health of the world’s people.
One year ago, Omicron had just been identified and was starting to take off.
At that time, COVID-19 was killing 50,000 people each week. Last week, less than 10,000 people lost their lives.
That’s still 10,000 too many – and there is still a lot that all countries can do to save lives – but we have come a long way.
We’re hopeful that at some point next year, we will be able to say that COVID-19 is no longer a global health emergency.
The criteria for declaring an end to the emergency will be among the topics of conversation when the Emergency Committee meets in January.
Of course, this virus will not go away. It’s here to stay, and all countries will need to learn to manage it alongside other respiratory illnesses including influenza and RSV, both of which are now circulating intensely in many countries.
However, we still face many uncertainties and challenges in 2023.
Only one in five people in low-income countries has been vaccinated;
Access to diagnostics and life-saving treatments for COVID-19 remains unacceptably unaffordable and unequal;
The burden of post-COVID-19 condition is only likely to increase;
And large gaps in surveillance remain, which is a weakness not only for detecting new variants of COVID-19, but also for monitoring the spread of other infections.
As we look to end this emergency, we still need to understand how it began.
We continue to call on China to share the data and conduct the studies that we have requested, to better understand the origins of this virus.
As I have said many times, all hypotheses remain on the table.
One of the most important lessons of the pandemic is that all countries need to strengthen their public health systems to prepare for, prevent, detect and respond rapidly to outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.
An advanced medical care system is not the same thing as a strong public health system.
One of the other key lessons of the pandemic is the need for much stronger cooperation and collaboration, rather than the competition and confusion that marked the global response to COVID-19.
So, I’m very pleased that last week, WHO’s Member States agreed to develop the first draft of a legally binding accord on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, based on the principles of equity, solidarity and sovereignty.
Member States will begin discussing this “zero draft” of the pandemic accord, in February.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic improved during the course of the year, we were confronted with many other emergencies.
As we speak, WHO is responding to 53 graded emergencies and in the past year we have responded to more than 200 outbreaks.
The global outbreak of mpox – a disease that was mostly unknown outside of Africa – took the world by surprise.
More than 82,000 cases have been reported from 110 countries, although the mortality rate has remained low, with 65 deaths.
Thankfully, the number of weekly reported cases has declined more than 90% since I declared a public health emergency of international concern in July.
If the current trend continues, we are hopeful that next year we will also be able to declare an end to this emergency.
Likewise, with no new cases in more than two weeks, and no patients being treated at the moment, the countdown to the end of the Ebola outbreak in Uganda has begun.
If no new cases are detected, the outbreak will be declared over on the 10th of January.
With support from WHO and partners, the Government of Uganda is now focusing its efforts on surveillance and monitoring the last few contacts under follow up.
Last week, the first batch of candidate vaccines arrived in Uganda, within 80 days of the declaration of the outbreak – faster than for any previous outbreak.
This was thanks to a remarkable collaboration of partners around the world who have worked together to advance candidate vaccines and ensure their availability to carry out trials.
So we end a difficult year with some encouraging news: COVID-19, mpox and Ebola are all declining.
However, there are many other crises to which WHO is responding.
In the Greater Horn of Africa, severe drought is driving an acute health and hunger crisis.
47 million people are now facing hunger in the region, and disease outbreaks are surging.
WHO and our partners are on the ground, ensuring access to basic health services, providing treatment for severe malnutrition and helping countries to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks.
Meanwhile, we are continuing to respond to cholera outbreaks in 29 countries, including Haiti, which has more than 1,200 confirmed cases, more than 14,000 suspected cases and 280 reported deaths, after more than three years without a case.
This week, Haiti received almost 1.2 million doses of oral cholera vaccines, and vaccination campaigns are expected to start in the coming days in the most affected areas. WHO-PAHO has also supplied almost 50 tons of essential medical supplies to cholera treatment centres.
Outbreaks, wars and other humanitarian emergencies make the headlines, but the health of the world’s people continues to be under threat from many causes that don’t make the news as often:
Tobacco use, while declining globally, still kills more than 8 million people a year;
Unhealthy diets are driving increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more;
Progress against HIV, malaria and TB has stalled or gone backwards;
Only half the world’s population can access safe sanitation services;
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the huge unmet burden in mental health;
Hundreds of millions of people either can’t access or afford essential health services;
And the global addiction to fossil fuels poisons the air we breathe and makes the planet on which all life depends less habitable.
As we look ahead to 2023, there are many reasons for hope, and many reasons for concern.
WHO remains as committed as ever to supporting our Member States to build a heathier, safer and fairer future for the world’s people.