Through transparent knowledge-sharing, tailored support on the ground, and steadfast solidarity we will beat COVID-19 : WHO Europe

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge WHO Regional Director for Europe

Copenhagen,  Denmark, 30 April 2020 :

Statement to Diplomatic Missions located in Denmark on COVID-19 by Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe on 28th April 2020

Good morning your Excellencies and thank you for joining this briefing.

It is now four long weeks since we last had the opportunity to update you on the situation across the WHO European Region. During these 28 days, cumulative cases in the European Region have increased over 3-fold, to more than 1.3 million – this is 48% of cases globally. And over the same period, deaths in the Region have increased more than 5-fold. Tragically over 124,000 people have now lost their lives to this virus. 63% of global mortality is from this Region. My thoughts and deepest sympathy are with the families and loved ones of those we have lost.

So let me underline what is crystal clear: the European Region remains very much in the grip of this pandemic. It is imperative that no country lets down its guard. Although some countries in the western part of the Region are seeing transmission stabilize and in some instances decrease, note that 7 of the 10 countries reporting most new cases in the past 24 hours are in our Region – USA, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Brazil, Germany, France and Canada. Furthermore, although western Europe carries the burden in terms of the absolute number of cases, it is in the countries in the eastern part of the Region where the curve is now steepening.

These figures also illustrate that the situation across our highly diverse Region is not uniform. And yet we must also look to each other for solutions and understanding of what measures work, and what can be done. The path of transition to a “new normal” is not an easy one – complexity and uncertainty lie ahead.

So today, I would like to outline how we are assisting countries with both guidance and knowledge exchange, as well as with direct support on the ground.

I want to convey three messages to you, your Excellencies, today:

I would like to emphasize that any transition or easing of restrictions needs careful consideration and transparent information sharing between us.

I would like to inform you of the tailored, on-the-ground support WHO delivers.

I would like to sincerely thank you for your solidarity and delivery of support of expertise, knowledge, supplies and financial resources, to the Member States of the European Region.

The first of my three messages to you today is that – we can support your governments planning transition, and to learn from different health system responses across the Region.

Last Friday, we issued policy considerations on how to strengthen and adjust public health measures through COVID-19 transition phases. This document explains how four key components together contribute to managing such transitions and balancing restrictive measures.

Any transition must take account of public health and epidemiological considerations; ensure capacity for dual track health systems to provide regular health services as well as those for COVID-19 are in place; integrate social and behavioural perspectives; and offer social and economic support to reduce the devastating effects of COVID-19 on individuals, families and communities.  The document also lists the six conditions that must be present for countries to consider easing restrictions and moving to transition – an essential checklist.

I am extremely grateful for the knowledge and support we have received from policy-makers, my senior advisory group and experts across the Region to develop and deliver this much-needed work.

Another vital information resource we are compiling is the Health Systems Response Monitor, that collects and organizes evidence on how countries are responding to the crisis through health systems’ and wider public health initiatives together with the European Commission. Using this you can see what governments, health authorities and others are doing, and take a deeper dive to find out about the different approaches countries are taking on specific issues – such as expanding health workforce surge capacity, or the different approaches to testing across the Region, for example. Again, this initiative is only possible thanks to the invaluable information-sharing and support from countries.

My second message is that through the Regional Office, our strong network of Country Offices, using global expertise and drawing on partners, we are delivering 24/7 effective support to tackle COVID-19 on the ground.

Since the end of January, WHO/Europe has organized 8 high level missions: to Italy, Spain (x2), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan – assessing the situation on the ground, supporting decisions makers, and providing recommendations for additional response actions to prevent further disease spread and save lives. Another mission is being planned to the Central Asian Republics in the coming days.

Over 10 weeks we have undertaken 51 in-country technical support missions to 18 priority countries in the Region – providing laboratory support to hospital preparedness, operational planning to readiness-testing. Through our sub-regional hubs, 8 additional missions were made.

As lockdowns were introduced, we shifted strategy to offer remote, virtual support to countries – using webinars from Venice, for instance, to assist small countries and the Regions for Health Network. We have delivered virtual guidance on Infection Prevention and Control and Clinical Management for COVID-19 patients to clinicians from 30 countries, and media training for journalists across the Region.

Despite the challenges of shipment delays due to regulations and customs, lack of emergency procurement procedures, and global shortages, we have distributed laboratory testing kits to 21 countries, ensuring their ability to detect the virus. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has be delivered to 17 countries providing frontline health workers – our heroes – with the protection they need to care for COVID-19 patients.

The Regional Office is working in an agile way, repurposing staff and adapting as the situation changes, directing our support to where it is most needed.

And my third and final point is this:

Thank you for your solidarity. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest thanks to you and your governments for the solidarity you have shown to other countries and to WHO in difficult times. Expertise, knowledge, emergency response teams, vital supplies, commitment to WHO and other partner initiatives, and funding have all flowed across the Region in an incredible show of unity and strength.

At this point let me pause to applaud and thank you for the contributions and pledges received from Member States in the European Region (and the European Union) to the global COVID-19 appeals:

This amounts to USD 252 million out of the total USD 584 million that has been pledged or received by WHO as part of the global Strategic preparedness and response plan appeals – an impressive 43% of global pledges and support to WHO to date.

This is a global emergency, and you have stepped up to make it a global response.

In closing, let me repeat my three points:

It is through 1) transparent knowledge sharing;  2) tailored on-the-ground support and 3) steadfast solidarity that we will beat this virus, and come out stronger, together.

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