The World Health Organization’s head has warned that conditions are still ideal for more coronavirus variants to emerge and that it’s dangerous to assume omicron is the last one or that “we are in the endgame,” even though the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year if some key targets are met.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus laid out a slew of achievements and concerns in global health on Monday, including tobacco use, anti-microbial resistance, and the effects of climate change on human health.
However, he stated that “ending the acute phase of a pandemic must remain our collective priority.”
“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end. But it’s dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame,” Tedros told the start of a WHO executive board meeting this week. “On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”
But he insisted that “we can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year,” by reaching goals like WHO’s target to vaccinate 70 percent of the population of each country by the middle of this year, with a focus on people who are at the highest risk of COVID-19, and improving testing and sequencing rates to track the virus and its emerging variants more closely.
“It’s true that we will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future and that we will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory diseases” to help prepare for future pandemics, he said. “But learning to live with COVID cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept almost 50,000 deaths a week from a preventable and treatable disease.”
Tedros also called for the WHO to be strengthened and its funding increased in order to help prevent health crises.
“Let me put it plainly: If the current funding model continues, WHO is being set up to fail. The paradigm shift in world health that is needed now must be matched by a paradigm shift in funding the world’s health organization.”