The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on families, communities, and nations the world over. But it’s also giving rise to incredible acts of generosity, solidarity, and cooperation. We have said consistently that we’re all in this together, and we can only succeed together. We need an all-of-society approach, with everyone playing their part. That includes people in the entertainment industry.
Today I’m delighted to be joined by one of the biggest names in entertainment in the world – Lady Gaga, and by my friend Hugh Evans, the founder, and CEO of Global Citizen. WHO has been working with Global Citizen for several weeks on the “Together at Home” concert series, with artists like Chris Martin and John Legend giving free online performances. Now we’re working with Lady Gaga and Global Citizen to take this concept and make it even bigger, through the “One World: Together at Home” virtual global special on Saturday, the 18th of April.
It’s now my great pleasure to invite Lady Gaga and Hugh Evans to say more about this very special event. Once again, I’d like to thank Lady Gaga and Hugh Evans for their partnership and leadership. We had a call last week, and I was so amazed by the energy and passion of Lady Gaga, and her incredible commitment to humanity. That’s when I said I think what she has planned can happen to bring the world together, to raise awareness and mobilize resources to fight the pandemic. I thank her for incredible passion and leadership, and my friend Hugh Evans for joining the dots, and for his leadership.
We all look forward to joining you for the “One World: Together at Home” concert on the 18th of April. As the pandemic continues, we recognize that individuals and governments want to do everything they can to protect themselves and others – and so do we. We understand that some countries have recommended or are considering the use of both medical and non-medical masks in the general population to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
First and foremost, medical masks must be prioritized for health workers on the front lines of the response. We know medical masks can help to protect health workers, but they’re in short supply globally. We are concerned that the mass use of medical masks by the general population could exacerbate the shortage of these specialized masks for the people who need them most. In some places, these shortages are putting health workers in real danger.
In health care facilities, WHO continues to recommend the use of medical masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment for health workers. In the community, we recommend the use of medical masks by people who are sick and those who are caring for a sick person at home. WHO has been evaluating the use of medical and non-medical masks for COVID-19 more widely. Today, WHO is issuing guidance and criteria to support countries in making that decision. For example, countries could consider using masks in communities where other measures such as cleaning hands and physical distancing are harder to achieve because of lack of water or cramped living conditions.
If masks are worn, they must be used safely and properly. WHO has guidance on how to put on, take off and dispose of masks. What is clear is that there is limited research in this area. We encourage countries that are considering the use of masks for the general population to study their effectiveness so we can all learn. Most importantly, masks should only ever be used as part of a comprehensive package of interventions.
There is no black or white answer, and no silver bullet. Masks alone cannot stop the pandemic. Countries must continue to find, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact. Mask or no mask, there are proven things all of us can do to protect ourselves and others – keep your distance, clean your hands, cough or sneeze into your elbow, and avoid touching your face. Less than 100 days since WHO was notified about the new coronavirus, research has accelerated at incredible speed.
The viral genome was mapped in early January and shared globally, which enabled tests to be developed and vaccine research to start. More than 70 countries have joined WHO’s Solidarity Trial to accelerate the search for an effective treatment. And about 20 institutions and companies are racing to develop a vaccine. WHO is committed to ensuring that as medicines and vaccines are developed, they are shared equitably with all countries and people.
I want to thank the Medicines Patent Pool and UNITAID for the initiative they announced last Friday to include medicines and diagnostics for COVID-19 in their licensing pool. I also want to thank the President of Costa Rica, President Carlos Alvarado, and the Health Minister, Daniel Salas, for their proposal to create a pool of rights to tests, medicines, and vaccines, with free access or licensing on reasonable and affordable terms for all countries. I support this proposal, and we are working with Costa Rica to finalize the details.
Poorer countries and fragile economies stand to face the biggest shock from this pandemic, and leaving anyone unprotected will only prolong the health crisis and harm economies more. I call on all countries, companies and research institutions to support open data, open science and open collaboration so that all people can enjoy the benefits of science and research.
Finally, we are nearing the end of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. If there are no more cases, the government of DRC could declare the outbreak over as early as this Sunday. We’re not there yet, and we remain on full response mode. We’re continuing to investigate alerts and to test samples. This would not have been possible without the incredible health workers who have put themselves at risk for more than 18 months to stop this outbreak.
Just as health workers are putting themselves in danger to save lives from COVID-19, health workers in DRC faced the double threat of fighting a deadly virus in one of the world’s most dangerous and unstable regions – exposing themselves to Ebola and bullets.
Today is WHO’s birthday – a day we celebrate each year as World Health Day. This year, we’re paying tribute to the incredible contribution of all health workers, especially nurses and midwives. Nurses and midwives are the backbone of every health system. They’re there from the first moments of life to the last. Tomorrow we are publishing our first report on the state of the world’s nursing, which highlights gaps and makes recommendations for all countries.
One of the lessons I hope the world learns from COVID-19 is that we must invest in health workers – not only to protect lives but also to protect livelihoods.