3 in 5 new HIV infections are girls without access to education, says WHO

…Says Omicron variant fuels 80m new cases in 9 weeks

By Sola Ogundipe & Gabriel Olawale

IT is dangerous to assume that the COVID-19 pandemic  is  approaching its endgame, or that Omicron will be the last variant to emerge, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has warned.

The Head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who disclosed this on Monday, said that the world has reached a critical juncture in the COVID-19  pandemic, even as he urged countries to work together to bring the acute phase of the pandemic to an end, saying that all the tools to do so are now available.

Tedros who spoke on Monday while addressing the  WHO executive board, said since the Omicron variant was identified nine weeks ago, more than 80 million Covid cases had been reported  — more than reported in the whole of  2020.

Warning that the world cannot let the pandemic continue to drag on, lurching between panic and neglect, he said conditions are ripe for Covid-19 to mutate into more new variants.

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“It is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we’re in the endgame.  On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge. To change the course of the pandemic, we must change the conditions that are driving it.”

While cases have been surging, Tedros noted that the “explosion” in cases had not been matched by a surge in deaths, although fatalities were rising in all regions, particularly in Africa where countries were struggling to access vaccines.

Tedros hinted that when COVID-19 pandemic was declared public health emergency of international concern two years, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths reported outside China.

“Two years later, almost 350 million cases have been reported, and more than 5.5 million deaths and we know these numbers are an underestimate. On average last week, 100 cases were reported every three seconds, and somebody lost their life to COVID-19 every 12 seconds.”

The global health body chief, said that COVID-19 pandemic is much more than a pandemic but a brutal reminder that health is not a by-product of development and that when health is at risk, everything is at risk.

“It’s true that we will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future, and that we will need to learn to manage it through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory diseases, which will provide a platform for preparedness for future pandemics.

“But learning to live with COVID cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride. It cannot mean that we accept almost 50 thousand deaths a week, from a preventable and treatable disease.

“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out, and how the acute phase could end.

“As it stands, 86 Member States across all regions have not been able to reach last year’s target of vaccinating 40 percent of their populations and 34 Member States, most of them in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region, have not been able to vaccinate even 10 percent of their populations.

“Also, 85 percent of the population of Africa is yet to receive a single dose of vaccine. How can this be acceptable to any of us? We simply cannot end the emergency phase of the pandemic unless we bridge this gap. But we can bridge it, and we are making progress.

Tedros  said the world cannot gamble on a virus whose evolution it cannot control or predict but was optimistic that with the right course of action, the pandemic could reach a turning point in 2022.

He said if countries use strategies and tools  in a comprehensive way, the  acute phase of the pandemic can end this year and the world can end Covid-19 as a global health emergency.

“The pandemic has demonstrated that we must elevate protecting and promoting health as a top priority, with significantly increased investment in countries, and at WHO.

“The second priority is to support a radical reorientation of health systems towards primary health care, as the foundation of universal health coverage. The third priority is to urgently strengthen the systems and tools for epidemic and pandemic preparedness and response at all levels, underpinned by strong governance and financing to ignite and sustain those efforts, connected and coordinated globally by WHO. “We all want a world in which science triumphs over misinformation; solidarity triumphs over division; and equity is a reality, not an aspiration.

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