If rich countries think the pandemic is over, they should also help low-income countries get to that point, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters.
In an interview, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned that wealthier countries must not back down from tackling COVID-19 as a global problem now, ahead of potential future waves of infection. .
In recent weeks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said the end of the pandemic is in sight, and US President Joe Biden has declared the pandemic over.
“When I hear them say, ‘Well, we’re so comfortable here,’ it’s like, ‘Great, now you can really help us do the rest of the world,'” Aylward said.
Aylward said the group he coordinates, which focuses on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests around the world, is not yet ready to emerge from the emergency phase of the fight against the pandemic and that countries need to be prepared and have treatments in place for any new waves of infection.
“If you fall asleep now and this wave hits us in three months… My God, blood on your hands,” he said.
He also pointed out that Biden was right domestically because the United States has good access to all COVID tools. Nor has it reduced its global commitment to the fight against COVID, he added.
Aylward coordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a partnership between WHO and other global health bodies to help poorer countries access COVID-19 tools. The effort, which includes the vaccine-focused COVAX, has reached billions of people around the world, but has been criticized for not acting quickly enough. There had been speculation the effort might end this fall, but Aylward said he was simply changing focus as the pandemic changed.
Over the next six months, the partnership will focus on providing vaccines to around a quarter of healthcare workers and older people worldwide who remain unvaccinated, as well as improving access to testing and treatment, especially with Pfizer. Paxlovide, he said.
It will also look to the future as COVID is “here to stay”, and unless systems are put in place, support will crumble once other industrialized countries also think the pandemic is over, Aylward said.
The initiative already has an $11 billion shortfall in its budget, with most of its $5.7 billion available funding pledged for vaccines rather than tests or treatments.
Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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