Monday, 18 May 2020

Pretoria: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of universal health coverage.

That is the message underlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa who was addressing the virtual 73rd Session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) on Monday.

The pandemic should propel countries to act with greater urgency to make it a reality.

“In this final decade towards the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals, we must press ahead with our goal of making universal health care a reality for all the people of the world,” President Ramaphosa said, adding that no one should be left behind.

President Ramaphosa said the virus has “dwarfed” all other issues facing the international community and individual countries.

“The pandemic has profound social, political, economic and security implications for us all. It is impacting on human health, our societies and our systems of governance. Although the coronavirus pandemic has affected both developed and developing economies, it is the poor who will suffer most.”

The pandemic has also highlighted growing inequality that exists between countries.

“Health care systems are struggling to cope. Some have been weakened by underfunding and neglect; others are under pressure because they were designed to serve the select few.”

In addition, not only has the pandemic devastated the livelihoods of millions of people but has also changed the way people behave, work and live.

“The global recovery depends on our ability to accept these realities, to prepare for them and to adapt accordingly.”

He reiterated the call for social distancing, hygiene and other protocols recommended by the World Health organization (WHO) to become part of daily life.

The President also stated that South Africa supports the WHO in its guidance of international response to the pandemic.

“The WHO has been instrumental in providing guidance and support to African governments with early detection of the pandemic, training health workers and strengthening surveillance in communities.”

He said the African continent is extremely vulnerable to the effects of the virus and needs every possible support and assistance, including much-needed resources, to bolster its response and offset a potentially devastating social and economic fallout.

African response

President Ramaphosa, who is the chairperson of the African Union (AU), said the continental body consisting of 55 member states has taken very deliberate steps to respond to the virus.

“We have developed a comprehensive COVID-19 strategy, established an African Union COVID-19 Response Fund and embarked on a fundraising drive to strengthen the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said.

The AU has also raised US$ 61 million for the Response Fund and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The African Union has made a call for developing countries to be assisted in their efforts to combat the pandemic and to rebuild their economies.”

This include debt relief, more Special Drawing Rights Allocations with international financial institutions, and the provision of comprehensive and robust stimulus packages to vulnerable countries.

“To turn back the frontiers of the pandemic, we also need to deepen international collaboration around research and development and investment in essential medical technologies, in COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics and in vaccines,” he said.

Finding a vaccine

President Cyril Ramaphosa said he fully supports the initiative by the WHO together with many governments, non-profit organisations and industry leaders to speed up the development and production of vaccines and therapeutics and to ensure that they are distributed quickly and equitably across the globe.

“For its part, South Africa is participating in several research initiatives with continental and international partners including the global effort to develop, manufacture and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine.”

He also raised the importance of ensuring there is equitable access to medical equipment, technologies and best practice to combat COVID-19.

“Let us also continue to work together to improve our emergency preparedness for potential future outbreaks of this nature, and take forward the proposal made at the previous meeting of the World Health Assembly to develop a Global Disaster Response Plan.”

He employed people to be bold and courageous in confronting this pandemic.

“Let us continue to collaborate and to act in the best traditions of social solidarity,” he said at the virtual meeting.

The WHA meets annually in Geneva, Switzerland, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the forum held its gathering online.

The WHA is the supreme policy decision-making body of the WHO, governed by its 194 Member States and consisting of health ministers.