© Reuters. Senior WHO adviser Bruce Aylward during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland 12/20/2021 REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
By Jennifer Rigby
LONDON (Reuters) – If rich countries think the pandemic is over, they should help low-income countries get there too, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters.
In an interview, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned that wealthier nations cannot back down from tackling Covid-19 as a global problem now, before potential future waves of infection.
In recent weeks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the end of the pandemic was in sight, and US President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over.
“When I hear them say, ‘Well, we’re so comfortable here,’ it’s like, ‘Great, now you can really help us with the rest of the world,'” he said.
Aylward said that the group he coordinates, which focuses on equitable access to vaccines, treatments and tests for Covid-19 around the world, is not yet ready to leave the emergency phase of facing the pandemic and that countries need to be prepared and have treatments in place for any new waves of infection.
“If you go to sleep now and this wave hits us in three months… God – blood on your hands,” he said.
He also stressed that Biden has a point, as the United States has good access to all Covid tools. Nor has it cut back on its global commitment to fighting Covid, he added.
Aylward coordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a partnership between WHO and other global health bodies to help the poorest countries access Covid-19 tools.
Over the next six months, the partnership will primarily aim to provide vaccines to about a quarter of the world’s unvaccinated healthcare workers and seniors, as well as improve access to testing and treatment, he said.
It will also look to the future, as Covid “is here to stay” and unless systems are put in place, support will collapse when other industrialized nations also think the pandemic is over, Aylward said.
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby)