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WHO Marks One Year Since Declaring COVID-19 Emergency 

FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks in Geneva, Jan. 21, 2021.
FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, speaks in Geneva, Jan. 21, 2021.

The World Health Organization is marking the one-year anniversary of its declaration of a “public health emergency of international concern” regarding COVID-19 by urging the global community to take action to bring the pandemic under control.

At the agency’s regular COVID-19 briefing Friday at its headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that a year ago Saturday, there were fewer than 100 cases of the disease and no deaths outside China.

This week, the world passed 100 million reported cases and is approaching 2.2 million deaths. Tedros said he told the world a year ago that there was a “window of opportunity" to prevent the widespread transmission of the virus. He added, “Some countries heeded that call; some did not.”

Tedros said vaccines have given the world another window of opportunity to bring the pandemic under control, and it must not be squandered by not sharing vaccines equitably among rich and poor nations.

"The pandemic has exposed and exploited the inequalities of our world. There is now the real danger that the very tools that could help to end the pandemic – vaccines – may exacerbate those same inequalities,” the WHO chief said.

Tedros has spoken out against what he calls “vaccine nationalism” — the hoarding of available vaccines by the world’s richest nations while the poorer nations must “sit and wait.”

“When a village is on fire, it makes no sense for a small group of people to hoard all the extinguishers to defend their own houses,” said Tedros. “The fire will be put out faster if everyone has an extinguisher and works together.”

Tedros challenged the world’s government and industry leaders to work together to ensure that in the first 100 days of 2021, the vaccination of health workers and older people is underway in all countries. He also called on those governments to share their excess doses with the WHO-organized COVAX vaccine cooperative, which distributes vaccine to poor nations.

“Vaccine nationalism might serve short-term political goals. But it’s ultimately shortsighted and self-defeating,” he said.