Health and Healthcare Systems

'That's enough' - Global leaders must unite to fight COVID-19: WHO briefing

Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Geneva, Switzerland, March 16, 2020. Christopher Black/WHO/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY - RC29LF9R7B55

Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Image: VIA REUTERS

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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COVID-19

  • The World Health Organization held a media briefing to update the public on the COVID-19 outbreak. Streamed live on Wednesday, 8 April.
  • In an impassioned briefing, the WHO director General asked global leaders to avoid politicizing COVID-19.
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In an impassioned briefing today, World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus turned up the volume on his regular appeals for global solidarity to fight the coronavirus pandemic, pleading for unity.

The briefing came a day after harsh criticism from the United States over the agency’s handling of the virus. The Director General noted that he had received other criticisms from other countries in the near 100 days since the WHO had been notified of the outbreak.

Responding to those criticisms, the Director General listed the efforts the agency had taken to contain the virus, including the Solidarity Trial assembling more than 90 countries globally to find effective therapeutics.

He also explained that COVID-19 is a new virus whose behavior is still not known. Though the agency has worked day and night to issue guidelines, train health workers and drive other solutions, it acknowledged that the agency regularly assessed the strengths and weaknesses of its efforts. “We want to learn from our mistakes and move forward.”

During these months, the Director General acknowledged for the first time that he has been the target of racial remarks and even death threats. He stressed that he had put his focus on battling the virus and not any personal attacks.

“To me personally, I don't mind. I prefer to really focus on saving lives,” he said. “Why would I care about being attacked when people are dying?”

“I know that I am just an individual. Tedros is a dot in the universe.”

The Director General called for leaders to avoid politicizing the virus, saying it will lead to more deaths.

“If you don’t want many more body bags then you refrain from politicizing it."

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He stressed that the world’s leaders should focus their efforts on the safety of their people. He noted that in the 1960s, despite the Cold War, the United States and the USSR joined together to help suppress small pox. Those efforts helped eradicate the disease in just ten years.

A similar approach will be essential today, said the Director General. “The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,” said the Director General. “And the rest of the G-20 should come together to fight it. And the rest of the world should come together to fight it.”

“For God’s sake," he said, noting the more than 80,000 confirmed deaths so far. "Even one person is precious." He added, "if you don't want more body bags, don't politicize this,” he said.

“We shouldn't waste time pointing fingers. We need time to unite.”

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