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Introductory remarks by the Director-General of the WHO during the press briefing on COVID-19



  • Interim results from the solidarity therapy study now show that the other two drugs in the study, remdezivir and interferon, had little or no effect in preventing COVID-19 death or reducing hospital time.
  • At present, the corticosteroid dexamethasone is still the only proven effective agent against COVID-19 for patients with severe disease.
  • Although the number of deaths reported in Europe last week was much lower than in March, hospitalizations are rising and many cities are reporting that they will reach their intensive care capacity in the coming weeks.
  • During this winter in the southern hemisphere, the number of seasonal cases of influenza and deaths was lower than usual due to the measures introduced to limit COVID-1
    9. But we cannot assume that the same will be true in the flu season in the northern hemisphere.
  • Demand for influenza vaccines may exceed supply in some countries. The Strategic Advisory Group of Immunization Experts therefore recommends that health workers and the elderly be among the five risk groups to be vaccinated against influenza during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another underused tool is the use of antiviral drugs to treat people with the flu. We encourage all parties to use all the tools at their disposal.
  • Today is World Hypertension Day. To support countries taking action against cardiovascular disease, the WHO has developed the HEARTS package, which outlines the six key ingredients for tackling heart health threats, including hypertension.

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

Six months ago, the WHO launched the Solidarity Test to evaluate the effectiveness of four drugs for the treatment of COVID-19.

The Solidarity Test is the largest randomized controlled trial of COVID-19 therapy, involving almost 13,000 patients in 500 hospitals in 30 countries.

In June, we announced that we were discontinuing the hydroxychloroquine arm from the study, and in July we announced that we would no longer enroll patients receiving the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir.

Interim results of the trial now show that the other two drugs in the study, remdezivir and interferon, had little or no effect in preventing death from COVID-19 or reducing hospital time.

We expect the full results to be published soon in a leading scientific journal.

We would like to thank all the patients and clinicians who have participated in this unprecedented study so far, as well as the countries and hospitals that have borne the costs of the study.

The Solidarity Study still recruits about 2,000 patients each month and will evaluate other treatments, including monoclonal antibodies and new antivirals.

At present, the corticosteroid dexamethasone is still the only proven effective agent against COVID-19 for patients with severe disease.

There are still many other ongoing trials of therapeutic agents identified through the COVID-19 Research and Development Roadmap.

Through the ACT Accelerator, the WHO remains fully committed to accelerating the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapy for COVID-19 and ensuring their even distribution.

In this spirit, we welcome efforts to expand access to tests, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, such as the recent proposal by South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization to waive patents for medical devices for COVID-19 until the end of the pandemic.

Ending the pandemic begins with cooperation and sharing at all levels as a global community.

This includes sharing data, knowledge and intellectual property on vital, life-saving health products.

That’s why the WHO and Costa Rica launched the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, in late May this year, a voluntary initiative that will allow the benefits of research to be shared and equitably distributed. And we would like to take this opportunity to thank South Africa and India.

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As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise worldwide, especially in Europe, where countries are expanding their containment measures and many people are understandably tired of the disruptions the pandemic is causing to their lives and livelihoods.

Last week, the number of registered cases in Europe was almost three times higher than in the first peak in March.

Although the number of deaths reported in Europe last week was much lower than in March, hospitalizations are rising and many cities are reporting that they will reach their intensive care capacity in the coming weeks.

Any hospital bed occupied by a patient with COVID-19 is a bed that is inaccessible to someone else with another condition or disease, such as the flu.

There are up to 3.5 million severe seasonal flu cases and up to 650,000 respiratory deaths worldwide each year.

During this winter in the southern hemisphere, the number of seasonal cases of influenza and deaths was lower than usual due to the measures introduced to limit COVID-19.

But we cannot assume that the same will be true in the flu season in the northern hemisphere.

The combined spread of influenza and COVID-19 can pose challenges for health systems and healthcare facilities, as both diseases have very similar symptoms.

For this reason, the WHO is working with countries to adopt a holistic approach to the preparedness, prevention, control and treatment of all respiratory diseases, including influenza and COVID-19.

Many of the same measures that are effective in preventing COVID-19 are also effective in preventing influenza, including physical distancing, hand hygiene, covering cough, ventilation and masks.

And although we do not yet have a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, we do have safe and effective flu vaccines.

The WHO recommends influenza vaccination for five target groups: pregnant women, people with basic health conditions, adults, health workers and children.

These groups remain important targets for influenza vaccination.

However, one of the challenges we face now is that the demand for influenza vaccines may exceed the supply in some countries.

Therefore, the Strategic Advisory Group of Immunization Experts recommends that health professionals and the elderly be among the five risk groups to be vaccinated against influenza during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another underused tool is the use of antiviral drugs to treat people with the flu. We encourage all parties to use all the tools at their disposal.

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Finally, today is World Hypertension Day.

Today it has a personal resonance for me, because I am one of 1.13 billion people worldwide living with hypertension.

I have access to good medical care. But many others who live with hypertension are not so lucky.

Worldwide, 9 out of 10 people with hypertension do not control it, and 2 out of 5 people with hypertension do not even know they have it.

People with hypertension are at increased risk for heart disease, kidney damage and stroke, as well as severe illness and death from COVID-19, and the pandemic has disrupted hypertension services in more than half of the countries.

To support countries taking action against cardiovascular disease, the WHO has developed the HEARTS package, which outlines the six key ingredients for tackling heart health threats, including hypertension.

The COVID-19 pandemic will end. But more than 1 billion people will still be living with hypertension.

Even when we focus on ending the pandemic, we must remember that COVID-19 is only one health threat among many.

That is why the vision of the WHO remains the highest achievable standard of health for all, everywhere – health for all.

I thank you.


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