WHO Marks One Year Since Declaring COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

By Andrea Vremis & Dan O. Eboka

 Saturday, 30 January marked one year since the World Health Organization declared that ‘the outbreak of COVID-19 constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)’. It wasn’t until two-months later that the term “pandemic” was used outright. Just this past week a record 100 million cases was reached worldwide.

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, recalled that at the onset of the pandemic he addressed governments to heed the window of opportunity we had to prevent the widespread transmission of the virus. Clearly, some countries heeded his remark while others did not. Speaking at a press briefing on Friday, Tedros urged the world not to squander “another window of opportunity to curb the pandemic”. With more than 2.19 million people dead from the virus, Tedros warned against “vaccine nationalism” where “the richest nations hoard off available vaccines while the rest sit and wait.”  He remarked, “vaccine-nationalism might serve short-term political goals, but it’s ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating”. UN human rights experts also emphasised that tackling the pandemic individually is a path to further deaths, and “universal access to vaccines is essential for prevention and containment of COVID-19 around the world.”

Tedros concluded his speech advising government and industry leaders to work together to ensure that for the first 100 days of 2021, vaccination of health workers and older people is made a priority in all countries. He specifically promoted that governments share their excess doses with the WHO-organized COVAX vaccine cooperative, which distributes vaccines to poor nations. 2020 may go down in history as one of the worst years for human rights in world, let’s hope that 2021 could be the turning point, where governments acknowledge the central role for human rights in their policies, and unite in their efforts to compact the virus worldwide.

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