UNITED NATIONS (AP) – In four days of fiery rhetoric about war, climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons, one issue seemed like an afterthought at this year’s United Nations General Assembly: the pandemic. of coronavirus.
Masks were often pulled under the chin – or not worn at all – and any mention of COVID-19 by world leaders usually came at the end of a long list of grievances.
But on the sidelines of the annual meeting, the pandemic was still largely part of the conversation.
On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UNICEF chief executive Catherine Russell and others to discuss equitable access to COVID vaccines, tests and treatments.
And earlier in the day, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield joined world leaders in highlighting progress made in the fight against COVID-19, including the more than 620 million doses of vaccines in 116 countries and economies that the United States has provided. But she stressed there was still a lot of work to do.
Tedros noted that the number of deaths worldwide is near its lowest since the start of the pandemic and that two-thirds of the world’s population are vaccinated. But the encouraging signs mask a deep disparity between rich and poor countries.
For example, only 19% of people living in low-income countries are fully immunized, compared to 75% in high-income countries. And only 35% of healthcare workers and 31% of elderly populations in low-income countries are fully vaccinated and boosted.
The key to closing those gaps, according to Guterres, is countering vaccine misinformation and overcoming hesitation while increasing testing to quell the potential for more variants. The world also needs early warning systems for pandemics and must ensure a well-paid and well-supplied workforce in the healthcare sector.
“Let’s do it,” Guterres said. “Let’s end this pandemic once and for all.”
Thomas-Greenfield said COVID-19 care needs to be moved from being offered primarily in emergency facilities to integrating into routine services.
She described three new initiatives: a pilot program to be launched in 10 countries to help people get tested for COVID-19 and receive antiviral drugs; a US$50 million commitment to improve access to essential medical oxygen to treat patients with severe cases; and a global clearinghouse to make medical supply chains more resilient, efficient and equitable.
While few would say the situation hasn’t gotten better – and indeed US President Joe Biden recently remarked that the pandemic was over before backtracking on his comments – no one on Thursday was ready to stop it. .
“A marathon runner doesn’t stop when the finish line is in sight,” Tedros said, and instead runs harder to get to the end.
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