World Health Organization Director-General's Opening Remarks at Research and Innovation Forum on Novel Coronavirus 2019 | site |

Geneva, Switzerland - - (February 11, 2020) - - Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) published the following opening remarks made by its Director-General at the Research and Innovation Forum on Novel Coronavirus 2019:

Good morning everybody.

First of all, I would like to wish you all a very warm welcome to Geneva and to WHO for this very important meeting.

A very special thanks to our chairs, especially Marie-Paule Kieny, Jeremy Farrar, Nisia Lima and my brother Chikwe.

And I would like to welcome everyone who is joining us virtually, especially our sisters and brothers in China. We’re really sorry you can’t be with us today. We want you to know that we stand with you in solidarity, and we wish you courage, patience, success and good health in these extremely trying circumstances.

It’s hard to believe that just two months ago, this virus – which has come to captivate the attention of media, financial markets, and political leaders – was completely unknown to us.

As of 6am Geneva time this morning, there were 42,708 confirmed cases reported in China, and tragically we have now surpassed 1000 deaths - 1017 people in China have lost their lives to this outbreak.

Outside China, there are 393 cases in 24 countries, with 1 death, in the Philippines.

With 99% of cases in China, this remains very much an emergency for that country, but one that holds a very grave threat for the rest of the world. Unless we use the window of opportunity that we have now.

This outbreak is testing us in many ways.

It’s a test of political solidarity – whether the world can come together to fight a common enemy that does not respect borders or ideologies.

It’s a test of financial solidarity – whether the world will invest now in fighting this outbreak, or pay more later to deal with its consequences.

And it’s a test of scientific solidarity – will the world come together to find shared answers to shared problems?

That’s why we’re here today.

This is not a meeting about politics or money. This is a meeting about science.

We need your collective knowledge, insight and experience to answer the questions we don’t have answers to, and to identify the questions we may not even realize we need to ask.

There is still so much we don’t know.

What are the reservoirs?

What are the transmission dynamics?

What is the period of infectiousness?

Which samples should be used for diagnosis and monitoring of treatment?

What is the best way to manage cases of severe disease?

What ethical issues we need to be aware of in the way we do our research?

To defeat this outbreak, we need answers to all those questions, and more.

There are also tools we don’t have. We have no vaccine to prevent infections, and no proven therapeutics to treat them.

Following the West African Ebola outbreak, we developed the WHO R&D Blueprint – a strategy for developing drugs and vaccines before epidemics, and accelerating research and development activities during epidemics.

We’re actually very privileged to have Marie-Paule Kieny here with me, with us, as one of the architects of the R&D Blueprint. Thank you so much.

We activated the R&D Blueprint team in early January to coordinate and facilitate information-sharing on research elements of the response.

The R&D Blueprint identifies several known pathogens as priorities for research, but also includes scenarios for “pathogen x” – a previously unknown pathogen exactly like the one we are dealing with now.

We would like to especially thank the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness, we have here with us, Professor Yazdan, for co-organizing this meeting.

We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed roadmap for research around which researchers and donors will align.

The bottom line is solidarity, solidarity, solidarity.

That is especially true in relation to sharing of samples and sequences.

To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity.

WHO remains committed to equitable access to health products for populations that need them, and we will work to ensure that access is always part of all R&D efforts.

Publications, patents and profits are not what matters now.

What matters most is stopping the outbreak and saving lives.

With your support, that’s what we can do together.

I thank you.