The leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) have issued their most serious warning about the confluence of crises facing humanity, including pandemics, the impact of the war in Ukraine on the world’s food supply and the danger of widespread malnutrition and starvation.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, noted in his opening remarks at the organization’s press conference on Wednesday that COVID cases have steadily increased over the past four weeks. , with nearly 4.5 million new infections per week as of June 20. a jump of more than 21% in new cases compared to the previous week. The latest wave is driven by the highly contagious and immune-enhancing BA.4/BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
Global COVID deaths also rose slightly this week, topping 9,000, a weekly increase of 7.4%. The three affected WHO regions where deaths are rising are the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific, regions where official policy is to accept the SARS-CoV-2 virus as endemic. He warned: “Our ability to track the virus is at risk as reports and genomic sequences dwindle, meaning it is more difficult to track the omicron and analyze future emerging variants.
The WHO Director-General also pointed to the persistence of vaccine inequities that still hamper efforts. As his colleague, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, remarked later in the conference with his usual dry sarcasm: “We get an ‘A’ for innovation, but an “F” for fairness.
Notably, the middle of 2022 had been set as the WHO target date for each country to vaccinate 70% of its population. Although globally 75% of health workers and people over the age of 60 have been vaccinated, hundreds of millions of people, including the elderly and health workers in low-income countries, still face to the prospect of future waves of infections until they are vaccinated. Only 58 countries have reached the WHO target, while the average vaccination rate in low-income countries is 13%.
Director-General Ghebreyesus also briefed the press that he attended the G7 summit in Germany, briefing leaders on the range of pressing issues, in particular highlighting his concerns over the sustained transmission of monkeypox infections across the world, the global food crisis that is having its worst impact on more than 23 million people in the Horn of Africa, and the global implications of the attack on women’s democratic rights signaled by the United States Supreme Court repealing Roe vs. Wade.
The chief executive did not elaborate on the outcome of those talks and the press asked no follow-up questions about the summit and the G7 commitments (there were none of substance) to address. to the pandemic and the convergence of social crises that are massively disrupting the daily lives of people around the world.
Monkeypox is the newest of the global threats, with 5,309 confirmed and suspected cases worldwide in 67 countries and territories. The seven-day rolling average has steadily increased, having reached 300 new cases per day. Social media discussions among scientists have warned that based on simple modelling, the world could see 100,000 cases by August and the first million by September if the spread continues unmitigated.
Data scientist J. Weiland wrote on Twitter: “We are definitely in the unmitigated phase of this outbreak which is expected to follow steady exponential spread for some time. It will be interesting to see if Rt [Reproduction factor] slows once it spreads beyond high-risk demographics.
The epicenters of the current global epidemic remain Europe and North America. England has reported more than 1,000 cases, followed by Germany with 969, then Spain with 800. The number of cases in the United States has reached 351 infections.
Dr Ghebreyesus made these explanatory remarks on the recent IHR Emergency Committee meeting on June 23, stating that “on monkeypox, while the Emergency Committee has not indicated that the current outbreak presents a USPPI [Public Health Emergency of International Concern], they recognize the urgency of the event and that controlling the spread requires intense response efforts. They also advised me to summon them quickly depending on the evolution of the situation, which I will do.
He continued: “I am concerned about sustained transmission as this would suggest the virus is becoming established and could be moving into high risk groups including children, immunocompromised people and pregnant women. We are starting to see this with several children already infected. The WHO director later clarified that a proposal to immediately declare monkeypox a USPPI was defeated by an 11-3 vote, with the majority saying more data was needed but acknowledging the urgent concerns raised. by the spread of infection.
The Biden administration said this week that the Department of Health and Human Services would make 56,000 doses of smallpox vaccine available immediately, with another 300,000 in the coming weeks. This figure is expected to reach a total of 1.6 million doses of vaccine, administered in two doses, four weeks apart. The plan is to direct these vaccines to people with confirmed infections or presumed to have been exposed.
The chief executive did not say when he would reconvene the emergency committee, but some of the following conditions would trigger a reassessment: increase in growth rate over the next three weeks, cases identified among health professionals gender or vulnerable groups (immunocompromised, HIV-infected, pregnant women and children), increased severity or lethality, evidence of spread in animals, and evidence of infections of different clades (lineages) with higher virulence detected outside endemic regions.
One of the main concerns raised at the WHO press conference was the international crisis caused by the disruption of supply chains, inflationary pressures which are driving up food prices and food shortages which are rapidly leading to mass starvation in large parts of the world. These are exacerbated by the global climate which has resulted in unprecedented drought in many regions.
Dr Ghebreyesus warned: “The food crisis across the world… [are] leading to millions of people missing meals and going hungry. This has major implications for physical and mental health…Lack of food and nutrition weakens people’s immune systems and makes them more susceptible to disease. Malnourished children are at higher risk of death from pneumonia, diarrheal diseases and measles.
Max Lawson, Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, said of the G7’s failure to address the hunger crisis: “The G7 thinks 323 million people are on the brink of starvation, because of the current crisis. [the US-NATO-led war with Russia], a new record. Nearly one billion people, or 950 million, are projected to go hungry in 2022. We need at least an additional $28.5 billion from the G7 to fund food and agriculture investments to to eradicate hunger and fill the huge gap in UN humanitarian appeals. The $4.5 billion [the G7] advertised is a fraction of what is needed. In addition, the global humanitarian appeal fund is short by $37 billion.
He added: “The G7 wants us to believe that COVID-19 is over and that the ongoing global health crisis does not exist. Tell that to the millions of people who have yet to receive a single vaccine and the many who are still dying from this cruel disease.
There are currently more than 23 million people in need of immediate assistance and support in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan, which have faced two years of seasons alarming rains. Estimates place the number of cattle lost in the millions, in a region where agriculture and ranching are the main economic lifeline for the population.
Amina Abdulla, Concern Worldwide’s regional director for the Horn of Africa and social development specialist, noted that around 5 million children in the region are malnourished, of whom 1.6 million are severely malnourished. She said: “Without an urgent response and increased humanitarian aid, we risk seeing 350,000 of these children die.
Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, told Agence France-Presse (AFP), “I think we have probably already started our next health crisis. It is not a new pathogen, but it does mean that malnourished people will be more vulnerable to existing diseases. I think the combined impact of infectious diseases, food shortages and the energy crisis…we can talk about millions more deaths because of this. Indeed, measles cases worldwide have almost doubled since last year. For the first time in ten years, the WHO has reported an increase in deaths associated with tuberculosis.
The CEO completed his opening remarks on the issue of the United States Supreme Court’s strikedown of the Roe vs. Wade decision that gave women the right to abortion. He said: “I want to reaffirm the position of the WHO. All women should have the right to choose when it comes to their body and their health, FULL STOP! Safe abortion is health. He saves lifes. Restricting it pushes women and girls towards unsafe abortions leading to complications and even death. The evidence is irrefutable.
Undoubtedly, alongside the poor working-class American women who will be denied these basic rights, underground cottage industries will quickly emerge to offer dangerous procedures that can have serious consequences – infection, infertility, death, criminal prosecution – and the right the ban will embolden fascist and sectarian elements around the world.