WHO Virtual Press Conference: Director-General's opening remarks and audio file available - COVID-19 - 24 June

WHO Virtual Press Conference: Director-General's opening remarks and audio file available - COVID-19 - 24 June

Release Date: 24 June 2020

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

More than 9.1 million cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, and more than 470,000 deaths.

In the first month of this outbreak, less than 10,000 cases were reported to WHO. In the last month, almost 4 million cases have been reported.

We expect to reach a total of 10 million cases within the next week.

This is a sober reminder that even as we continue research into vaccines and therapeutics, we have an urgent responsibility to do everything we can with the tools we have now to suppress transmission and save lives.

One of the most effective ways of saving lives is providing oxygen to patients who need it.

Several news reports published today have highlighted the vital role of oxygen in treating patients with severe and critical COVID-19.

This has been an area of intense focus for WHO since the beginning of the pandemic.

Patients with severe and critical COVID-19 cannot get enough oxygen into their blood by breathing normally. They need higher concentrations of oxygen and support to get it into their lungs.

Left untreated, severe COVID-19 deprives cells and organs of the oxygen they need, which ultimately leads to organ failure and death.

Medical oxygen is produced using oxygen concentrators, which extract and purify oxygen from the air.

WHO estimates that at the current rate of about 1 million new cases a week, the world needs about 620,000 cubic meters of oxygen a day, which is about 88,000 large cylinders.

However, many countries are now experiencing difficulties in obtaining oxygen concentrators.

80 percent of the market is owned by just a few companies, and demand is currently outstripping supply.

WHO and our UN partners are working with manufacturers across the world through a variety of private sector networks to buy oxygen concentrators for countries that need them most.

Ongoing talks with suppliers in recent weeks have enabled WHO to buy 14,000 oxygen concentrators, which will be sent to 120 countries in the coming weeks.

WHO has identified a further 170,000 concentrators that can be available over the next 6 months, with a value of US$100 million dollars.

In addition, WHO has bought 9800 pulse oximeters, a simple device used to monitor oxygen in a patient’s blood, which are being prepared for shipment.

Another challenge is that many patients with critical disease need a higher flow rate of oxygen than is produced by most commercially available concentrators.

To address this challenge, WHO is supporting several countries to buy equipment that will enable them to generate their own concentrated oxygen in larger amounts. This is a sustainable solution for COVID-19 and beyond, but requires technical expertise for maintenance.

WHO has also published technical specifications for the design of this equipment, as well as guidance for countries on oxygen sources and distribution.

This is just one way in which WHO is continuing to support countries with science, solidarity and solutions.

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As some countries start to reopen their societies and economies, questions about how to hold gatherings of large numbers of people safely have become increasingly important.

This is especially true of one of the world’s largest mass gatherings, the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Earlier this week, the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that this year's Hajj will proceed with a limited number of pilgrims of different nationalities who live within the Kingdom.

This decision was made based on a risk assessment and analysis of different scenarios, in accordance with WHO’s guidance, to protect the safety of pilgrims and minimize the risk of transmission.

WHO supports this decision. We understand that it was not an easy decision to make, and we also understand it is a major disappointment for many Muslims who were looking forward to making their pilgrimage this year.

This is another example of the hard choices that all countries must make to put health first.

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Finally, tomorrow the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is planning to announce the end of the Ebola outbreak in the east of the country, after almost 2 years of struggle.

In total there have been almost 3500 cases, almost 2300 deaths, and almost 1200 survivors.

WHO is proud to have worked under the leadership of the Government of the DRC to bring this outbreak under control.

This has only been possible thanks to the service and sacrifice of thousands of Congolese health workers, working side by side with colleagues from WHO and many other partners. I salute them all.

Many of the public health measures that have been successful in stopping Ebola are the same measures that are now essential for suppressing COVID-19:

Finding every case, isolating every case, testing every case, caring for every case and relentless contact tracing.

These are the measures that must remain the backbone of the response in every country. There are no short-cuts.

But Ebola and COVID-19 are only two of the health threats facing the people of DRC, and many other low- and middle-income countries.

That’s why WHO is committed to continuing to work with the people and government of DRC to strengthen its health system and support it on the road towards universal health coverage.

I thank you.

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