Oct. 5, 2022

WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing – 5 October 2022

5 October 2022

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening.

First to Uganda, where WHO is continuing to support the government to respond to an outbreak of Ebola disease in four districts.

So far, 63 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, including 29 deaths.

Ten health workers have been infected, and four have died.

Four people have recovered and are receiving follow-up care.

WHO has released US$2 million from our Contingency Fund for Emergencies, and we’re working with our partners to support the Ministry of Health by sending additional specialists, supplies, and resources.

When there is a delay in detecting an Ebola outbreak, it is normal for cases to increase steadily at the beginning and then decrease as life-saving interventions and outbreak control measures are implemented.

The vaccines used successfully to curb recent Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are not effective against the type of Ebola virus that is responsible for this outbreak in Uganda.

However, several vaccines are in various stages of development against this virus, two of which could begin clinical trials in Uganda in the coming weeks, pending regulatory and ethics approvals from the Ugandan government.


Now to Pakistan.

Although the waters have stopped rising, the danger is only increasing.

More than 1500 lives were lost in the floods, but many more could be lost to disease in the coming weeks, without a massive and urgent international response.

WHO’s Executive Director for Health Emergencies, Dr Mike Ryan, has just led a team to Pakistan to assess the needs.

Approximately 10% of all of Pakistan’s health facilities have been damaged, leaving millions without access to health care.

Stocks of essential medicines and medical supplies are limited or have been washed away;

Damaged roads and bridges are impeding access to services and supplies;

And disease surveillance and referral mechanisms have been severely disrupted.

There are now outbreaks of malaria, cholera and dengue, an increase in skin infections, and we estimate that more than 2000 women are giving birth every day, most of them in unsafe conditions.

WHO’s focus is on supporting people in four groups:

Those in camps, who we can access easily, but are a small percentage of the total need;

Those who are living along the roadside for hundreds of kilometres;

Those in areas cut off by flood waters, who are very difficult to access;

And those in areas where the water is receding, and are returning home to destroyed villages and homes.

In August, WHO released US$10 million from our Contingency Fund for Emergencies, but this massive and unprecedented disaster needs a massive and unprecedented response.

Today we have issued an appeal for US$81.5 million to support WHO’s work to support the delivery of immunization and other life-saving health services;

To address severe acute malnutrition;

To enhance disease surveillance;

And to strengthen water and sanitation.

We urge our donors and partners to support this effort. In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, this is not about generosity, this is about justice.


Now to COVID-19.

Several countries in Europe are now reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

This is to be expected as the weather cools and people spend more time together inside, and most countries no longer have measures in place to limit the spread of the virus.

We expect reported cases of COVID-19 to increase. But the deaths don’t have to, given we have vaccines and therapeutics that can save lives.

Omicron remains the dominant variant globally, and WHO and our partners are tracking more than 300 sub-variants.

But surveillance, testing and sequencing remain weak globally, which makes tracking this virus like chasing shadows.

So we continue to call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing, and to ensure the most at-risk groups are vaccinated.

At the same time, the Northern hemisphere influenza season is starting.

Measures introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic also helped to reduce the burden of flu.

But with most of those measures lifted, flu is back, and should not be taken lightly.

Flu vaccines are safe and effective in reducing severe disease and death - especially among the most at-risk groups.

So please, get your flu vaccine.


Another disease making an unwelcome comeback is cholera.

After years of declining cases globally, we have seen a worrying upsurge of cholera outbreaks around the globe over the past year.

In the first nine months of this year alone, 27 countries have reported cholera outbreaks.

Not only are we seeing more outbreaks, but more deadly outbreaks.

The data we have – which are limited – show the average case fatality rate so far this year is almost three times the rate of the past five years.

In Syria, more than 10 000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported just in the past six weeks.

And in Haiti, after more than three years with no cases of cholera, two cases have been officially reported this week in the capital Port-au-Prince, with 20 suspected cases and 7 deaths under investigation in other areas. It’s likely the actual number of cases is significantly higher.

This outbreak is a particular setback as Haiti was preparing to be certified as cholera-free later this year.

Although cholera can kill within hours, it can be prevented with vaccines and access to safe water and sanitation, and can be treated easily with oral rehydration or antibiotics for more severe cases.

But the reality is that many people don’t have access to these simple interventions.

In 2013, WHO and our partners created an international stockpile of cholera vaccines, which last year shipped 27 million doses.

But with an increasing number of outbreaks, supply cannot keep up with demand.

We urge the world’s leading vaccine manufacturers to talk to us about how we can increase production.

Cholera thrives on poverty and conflict, but is now being turbo-charged by climate change.

Extreme climate events like floods, cyclones and droughts further reduce access to clean water and create the ideal environment for cholera to spread.

Cholera is deadly, but it’s also preventable and treatable. With the right planning and action, we can reverse this trend.


Finally, WHO has today issued a medical product alert for four contaminated medicines identified in The Gambia that have been potentially linked with acute kidney injuries and 66 deaths among children.

The loss of these young lives is beyond heartbreaking for their families.

The four medicines are cough and cold syrups produced by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited, in India.

WHO is conducting further investigation with the company and regulatory authorities in India.

While the contaminated products have so far only been detected in The Gambia, they may have been distributed to other countries.

WHO recommends all countries detect and remove these products from circulation to prevent further harm to patients.


Ebola in Uganda;

Multiple outbreaks in Pakistan;

Cholera around the world;

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic;

The global monkeypox outbreak;

The annual threat of influenza;

And contaminated medicines;

All illustrate why it’s so urgent that all countries – individually and as a global community – invest in strengthening their defences against outbreaks that can devastate families and communities, and cripple societies and economies.

In particular, it shows why cost-effective investments in disease surveillance and primary health care are so important.

Emergencies are an unfortunate fact of life. We might be able to prevent some, but we can’t prevent them all.

But by investing in strong health systems at the local level, we can mitigate the impact emergencies have and save many lives.

Margaret, back to you.

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