If rich countries think the pandemic is over, they should help low-income countries reach that point too, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters.
In an interview, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned that wealthier countries should not step back from tackling COVID-19 as a global problem now, in anticipation of future potential waves of infection.
In recent weeks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the end of the pandemic was in sight, and US President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over.
“When I hear them say, ‘Well, we feel so comfortable here,’ it’s like, ‘Great, now you can really help us get the rest of the world done,'” Aylward said. .
Aylward said the group he coordinates, which focuses on equal access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests worldwide, is not yet ready to get out of the emergency phase of fighting the pandemic and countries need to be ready and treatments for any further waves of infection.
“If you go to sleep now and this wave hits us in three months… God – blood on your hands,” he said.
He also stressed that Biden had a point domestically, as the United States has good access to all COVID resources. It has also not diminished its global commitment to fighting COVID, he added.
Aylward coordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a collaboration between WHO and other global health agencies to help poorer countries access COVID-19 resources. The effort, including vaccine-focused COVAX, has reached billions of people around the world but has been criticized for not acting fast enough. There was some speculation that the effort could end this fall, but Aylward said it just shifted focus as the pandemic changes.
Specifically, over the next six months, the partnership will focus on delivering vaccines to about a quarter of the world’s health professionals and the elderly who still haven’t had an injection, and improving access to test-and-treat, particularly with Pfizer’s Paxlovid, he said.
It will also look to the future as COVID is “here to stay,” and unless systems are put in place, support will collapse once other industrialized nations also think the pandemic is over, Aylward said.
The initiative already has an $11 billion gap in its budget, with most of the available $5.7 billion in funding committed to vaccines rather than tests or treatments.
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