WHO - World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa

11/17/2022 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/17/2022 05:17

Opening statement, Press Conference, 17 November 2022

Submitted by [email protected]on Thu, 17/11/2022 - 12:11

Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Good day, bonjour and welcome to all the journalists attending this press conference today.

I am joining you from Kampala in Uganda, where I am wrapping up a three-day mission to observe the country's commendable response to the current Ebola outbreak.

Along with providing an update on WHO's heightened efforts to support Uganda, I will also discuss two other growing health threats on the African continent - diabetes and antimicrobial resistance.

I am very pleased to be joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Dr Henry Kyobe Bossa, the Uganda Ministry of Health's Incident Commander for the Ebola outbreak.

A very warm welcome and thank you for making time to be with us today.

I'm also joined here by the WHO Representative, Dr Yonas Tegegn, who has of course been leading our team and our support to the response.

So, let me begin by commending Uganda's leadership, the President, His Excellency General Yoweri Museveni, the Honourable Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, and, very importantly, people and communities in Uganda, along with the health workers and authorities, and key partners, for a robust government-led response.

However, since the outbreak was first declared on 20 September, the Sudan ebolavirus has now been detected in a ninth district, this one with a large urban population.

Because cities favour the spread of the virus, with their highly-mobile residents and often crowded environments, the confirmation of new cases in Jinja, following cases in Kampala and Masaka, demands that we push even harder to get ahead of the threat - and reach zero, fast.

To date, there have been a total of 141 confirmed and 22 probable Ebola infections in Uganda, and 55 confirmed and 22 probable deaths.

WHO in the African Region has deployed 80 experts to support the fast-paced response, and assisted Ugandan health authorities to deploy a further 150, including over 60 epidemiologists.

We have also helped train nearly 1000 health workers and village health team members in contact tracing, and another 1155 health workers in infection prevention and control in health facilities.

Fifteen thousand units of Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, were delivered to protect health workers caring for patients. Most unfortunately, 19 health workers have already been infected, and tragically, seven of them have died.

We, as partners, all need to expand and intensify our support to the response, so that we bring this outbreak to an end. And as such, the expected arrival of vaccine candidate doses next week in Uganda is welcome news indeed.

WHO's committee of external experts has approved these candidate vaccines for inclusion in the planned clinical trial, the start of which marks a pivotal progression towards the development of the first vaccine against Sudan ebolavirus.

A separate group of experts has also selected two potential therapeutics for trial, and a trial design is now being submitted for approval by WHO and the Ugandan authorities.

Meanwhile, dedicated response teams are putting in incredible efforts on the frontlines to safeguard communities - I was privileged to speak to some of these yesterday.

It's encouraging that the outbreak is slowing in six districts, with two reporting no cases in more than 42 days, but we cannot afford to become complacent, and this robust support needs to be maintained.

Communities also need to embrace the critical control measures to ensure everyone is working together to end this outbreak.

WHO has launched an US$ 88.2-million appeal to fund the response in Uganda, and to support Ebola readiness in neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, only 20% of these funds have so far been received. We plead that time is of the essence.

Meanwhile, Member States continue to grapple with a range of other health threats, two of which were the subject of dedicated international health days this month.

The first is diabetes, which currently affects about 24 million people in the African Region, but is projected to rise by almost 130% - to 55 million - in the next two decades.

Yet, just fewer than half of all affected people are aware of their status - the highest deficit worldwide.

Associated death rates are also 10 percentage points higher that the global average, according to a new WHO analysis.

Compounding the threat is that only half of everyone living with Type 1 diabetes - the most common form of the disease amongst children - have access to the insulin that is critical to their survival.

To halt the progress of this silent killer on our continent, increased access to diabetes diagnosis, treatment and care is critical.

The August 2022 endorsement by African Health Ministers of a WHO-led initiative called the PEN Plus marked an important step forward.

As WHO, we commit our full support to Member States' actions to institute the requisite measures, including making essential medicines, technologies and diagnostics available and accessible at district hospitals.

I'll turn now to World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, which starts tomorrow, and which aims to raise awareness of the risks posed by the overuse and misuse of antimicrobials, including antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, which is known more commonly as "drug resistance", occurs when disease-causing germs become resistant to traditional medication, that is, antibiotics. This makes infections harder to treat, and increases the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death.

Sub-Saharan Africa carries the heaviest burden globally of resistant bacterial infections, which were responsible for nearly five million deaths worldwide in 2019 - more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

Since more than half of all deaths in the WHO African Region are caused by infectious diseases that we manage with antimicrobial medicines, it becomes clear that AMR endangers decades of advances towards the control of health threats such as malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, cholera, meningitis and gonorrhoea, among others.

The excessive, unnecessary use of antibiotics in humans and in food animals, which is one of the main drivers of AMR, needs to be urgently addressed.

I want to take this opportunity today to issue a call to action to African governments, to avert a potential catastrophe by prioritising investment in AMR strategies, with a One Health approach - a vital currency for effective AMR implementation.

Fundamentally, countries need to strengthen infection prevention and control measures, and improve surveillance of antimicrobial-resistant infections. The appropriate use and disposal of medicines needs to be promoted, and regulated, supported by community education on the depth of the negative consequences of antimicrobial resistance.

It is imperative that we work to maintain the critical balance between addressing AMR, while preserving access to lifesaving antibiotic medicines.

I'll now hand over to our guest, before taking questions from the media.

Thank you very much again for having joined us.