Opening statement, COVID-19 Press Conference, 25 June 2020

Submitted by on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 15:12

Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Good afternoon everyone, bonjour tout le monde, and thank you very much for having joined us today.

I am very happy also to be joined today, by the Honourable Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as our colleague Professor Muyembe, the Director-General of the National Institute for Biomedical Research.

Honourable Minister, I would like to commend your tireless commitment, and through you appreciate the leadership of the President of the DRC, and the sacrifice and perseverance of 16 000 frontline responders and most importantly communities in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, who have brought about the end of this 10th Ebola outbreak in the country.

I would also like to appreciate the African Union, Africa CDC, UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and bilateral partners, and the more than 1500 WHO colleagues who were deployed to the response, for their contribution to this significant achievement. Most of all, I want to thank the people and to pay tribute to health workers, including WHO experts, who either got ill, were injured and those who lost their lives during the response.

A special word of thanks also for Dr Tedros, our Director-General, who will be joining us shortly, for leading from the front and being very present in the field.

It wasn’t easy, and at times it seemed like a mission impossible. Ending this Ebola outbreak is a sign of hope for the Region and for the world, that with solidarity and science and courage and commitment, even the most challenging epidemics can be controlled.

Working together we leave an enduring legacy which is now supporting the fight against COVID-19 and other outbreaks.

After almost two years of building preparedness and response capacities for Ebola, the DRC and its nine neighbours have stronger skills, systems and capacities in place to manage a range of emergencies.

We have coordination mechanisms, surveillance platforms, points-of-entry screening, contact tracing strategies, isolation facilities, and some best practices and lessons learnt to engage and enable communities, and these have been quickly activated in response to COVID-19 in the DRC and its neighbouring countries.

The new Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka in Equateur province in the DRC, along with measles outbreaks in the Central African Republic, Chad, the DRC, South Sudan and other countries, and an increase in malaria in some countries in Southern Africa compared to last year, are all reminders of the need to ensure continuity of essential health services for other life-threatening conditions while at the same time fighting COVID-19.

There are now more than 332,000 COVID-19 cases on the African continent, and 8700 people have lost their lives – as of this week Africa is no longer the WHO region least-affected by COVID-19.

In a bid to balance economic concerns and a drive to end the epidemic, countries are easing social measures, and in some settings, this is leading to an increase in cases. To save lives and protect livelihoods, response measures should be adjusted step-by-step with data driving the decision-making.

In the past week 10 of 47 countries in the Region, accounted for 89% of the new cases and five accounted for 80% of new deaths.

In some countries, more than 5% of infections are among the health-care workers. This is a huge concern because of the safety of frontline workers, which is a priority for their ability to provide services to everybody. When they are absent, communities are at greater risk.

We are also seeing some cases among refugees and internally displaced people, who are living in crowded conditions where this virus could easily spread.

Key supplies continue to be a challenge, and here I’m speaking particularly about personal protective equipment and test kits, and we are working with the African Union and other UN agencies and partners on improving procurement.

So, this pandemic continues to require vigilance and an all-of-society approach in prevention and in response.

I congratulate once again, everyone involved in ending the 10th Ebola outbreak: Mr Minister, the Head of State, the Government in the DRC, all the teams and partners that were working on this and I am convinced that by working together in a similar way we will also get to defeat COVID-19.