If rich countries think the pandemic is over, they should help lower-income countries get there, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters.
WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned in an interview that wealthier countries must not back down from fighting COVID-19 as a global problem now, ahead of potential future waves of infection.
In the past few weeks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that the end of the pandemic is in sight, and US President Joe Biden has said that the pandemic is over.
“When I hear them say, ‘Well, we’re so comfortable here,’ it’s like, ‘Great, now you can really help us deal with the rest of the world,'” Aylward said.
Aylward said the group he coordinates, which focuses on equal access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatment and tests around the world, is not yet ready to exit the emergency response to the pandemic, and that countries must be prepared and treated for any further waves of infection.
“If you go to bed now and this wave hits us in three months … God – blood on your hands,” he said.
He also emphasized that Biden had a point domestically, as the US has good access to all the tools for COVID. Nor has it diminished its global commitment to fighting COVID, he added.
Aylward coordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a partnership between the WHO and other global health agencies to help poorer countries access COVID-19 tools. Efforts that include the vaccine-focused COVAX have reached billions of people worldwide, but have been criticized for not moving fast enough. There has been speculation that the effort could end this fall, but Aylward said it will simply change its focus as the pandemic changes.
Over the next six months, the partnership aims primarily to deliver vaccines to the approximately one-quarter of the world’s healthcare workers and the elderly who are still unvaccinated, as well as improving access to testing and treatment methods, particularly Pfizer’s Paxlov, he said.
It’s also looking to the future because COVID is “here to stay,” and if systems aren’t put in place, support will collapse when other industrialized nations also think the pandemic is over, Aylward said.
The initiative already has an $11 billion budget deficit, and most of the $5.7 billion in available funding is for vaccines rather than tests or treatments.
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