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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 20 November 2020

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Good morning, good afternoon and good evening.

More cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past 4 weeks than in the first six months of the pandemic.

Across Europe and North America, hospitals and ICU units are filling up or full.

This week there has been more good news from vaccine trials, which continues to give us hope of ending the pandemic. At the same time, we must continue to use the tools we have to interrupt the chains of transmission and save lives now.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the intimate relationship between humans, animals and the planet we share.

We cannot protect and promote human health without paying attention to the health of animals and the health of our environment.

That’s nowhere more true than in the case of antimicrobial resistance – one of the greatest health threats of our time.

Antimicrobial resistance may not seem as urgent as a pandemic, but it is just as dangerous.

It threatens to unwind a century of medical progress and leave us defenceless against infections that today can be treated easily.

Although antibiotics are a key focus, antimicrobial resistance also includes resistance to medicines for HIV, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and more.

Wednesday marked the start of World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, an annual opportunity to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance and encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers to slow the development and spread of drug-resistant infections.

The slogan for 2020 is "Antimicrobials: handle with care".

For years, WHO has been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the World Organisation for Animal Health, to address antimicrobial resistance and other health issues that arise from the interaction between humans and animals with a “One Health” approach.

Our three organizations – called the tripartite – conduct regular surveys to monitor country progress on antimicrobial resistance.

Our latest report, with data from 136 countries, shows that almost 90% of countries have national action plans for antimicrobial resistance, but only 20% have identified funding for implementation.

To help address that gap, together we have established a trust fund to support low- and middle-income countries to develop a truly One Health approach to addressing antimicrobial resistance.

Thanks to the governments of the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, to date we have raised US $13 million, which will provide the first round of support to eleven countries.

Just this week we have launched the implementation in Indonesia.

Additional funds will be required for the next round of investment.

Today the tripartite is launching a new report that examines the international instruments that govern the use of antimicrobials – and identifies gaps in regulations for use of antimicrobials in humans, animals and plants.

Together, our three organizations will work to address these gaps and generate more global coherence in the use of antimicrobials.

One of the most important ways to do that is through increased political commitment at the highest levels of government.

That’s why today we are launching the One Health Global Leaders Group, which will bring together prominent leaders from government, the private sector and civil society organizations, to advocate for urgent action to combat the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

The Group will be co-chaired by Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and Her Excellency Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados.

The Group will bring together key stakeholders in agriculture, health, development, food and feed production and other relevant areas to maintain urgency, public support, political momentum and visibility of the antimicrobial resistance challenge.

It’s now my great honour to introduce the co-chair of the One Health Leaders Group, Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to say a few words.

Your Excellency, you have the floor and thank you for your commitment and support.


Thank you, Your Excellency. I would now like to introduce the other co-chair of the One Health Leaders Group, Her Excellency Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados.

Your Excellency, thank you for your commitment and support. You have the floor.


Thank you, Your Excellency. And I would like to also point out that you share the same name as my new granddaughter, Mia.

I’m also delighted to be joined today by my colleagues in the tripartite: Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; and Dr Monique Eliot, Director-General of the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Mr Qu, welcome and you have the floor.


Thank you. And now it’s my honour to introduce the Director-General of the World Organisation for Animal Health, Dr Monique Eliot.

Dr Eliot, welcome, and you have the floor.


Merci beaucoup, Dr Eliot, and thank you to all our guests today. We look forward to working closely with all of you to protect the medicines that protect us.

Fadela, back to you.


Today is World Children’s Day. As our colleagues at UNICEF say, it’s a day to reimagine a better future for every child.

Although children are less at risk from severe COVID disease, children have suffered from the pandemic in many ways.

Our response to the pandemic, and the way we recover from it, will shape the world our children grow up in.

That makes it even more important to fight the pandemic with every tool at our disposal – to save lives now and give our children a better future.

I thank you.