Business and Economy

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on Marburg virus disease and COVID-19

Last Friday, the Ministry of Health of Guinea informed WHO of a case of Marburg virus disease in the country’s south-west, in a man who died 8 days after onset of symptoms. This is the first known case of Marburg in West Africa.

WHO and our partners are supporting Guinea’s Ministry of Health to investigate the source of the outbreak, trace contacts, and inform the local community about how to protect themselves.

About 150 contacts have been identified and are being followed up, including three family members and a health worker, who have been identified as high-risk close contacts.

Marburg is a very different virus to the one that causes COVID-19, but many of the elements of the response are the same: isolating and caring for those infected, tracing and quarantining their contacts, and engaging local communities in the response.

There is no licensed vaccine for Marburg, although there are vaccines under development, and WHO is working with our partners to seek opportunities to assess them during this outbreak through the R&D Blueprint for Epidemics.

By contrast, we have several effective vaccines for COVID-19, and yet cases and deaths continue to rise.

Last week, the 200 millionth case of COVID-19 was reported to WHO, just six months after the world passed 100 million reported cases. And we know that the real number of cases is much higher.

As I said recently, whether we reach 300 million, and how fast we get there, depends on all of us.

At the current trajectory, we could pass 300 million reported cases early next year. But we can change that.

We’re all in this together, but the world is not acting like it.

We already have many tools to prevent, test for and treat COVID-19, including oxygen, dexamethasone and IL-6 blockers. But we need more, for patients at all ends of the clinical spectrum, from mild to severe disease. And we need health workers that are trained to use them in a safe environment.

In October, WHO reported results of the Solidarity Trial, which tested four treatments for COVID-19, involving almost 13,000 patients in 500 hospitals, in 30 countries.

That trial showed that the four drugs had little or no effect on hospitalized patients with COVID-19. We expect final results from that trial next month.

Today we are pleased to announce the next phase in the Solidarity trial, called Solidarity PLUS.

Solidarity PLUS will test three drugs: artesunate, a treatment for severe malaria; imatinib, a drug for certain cancers; and infliximab, a treatment for immune system disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

These drugs were chosen by an independent panel of experts that evaluates all the available evidence on all potential therapeutics.

The trial involves thousands of researchers at more than 600 hospitals in 52 countries.

I would like to thank the governments, hospitals, researchers and patients who are participating in the trial, as well as the three manufacturers who have donated the drugs for the trial: Ipca, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson.

One of the first countries to enrol patients in the Solidarity PLUS trial is Finland.

Today, we’re honoured to be joined by Finland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Her Excellency Hanna Sarkkinen.

Your Excellency, thank you so much for joining us today. You have the floor.

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