GENEVA

Although 1 million lives are confirmed to have been lost to COVID-19, the real number is “certainly higher,” the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Science offers solutions to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a high-level virtual session of the 75th United Nations General Assembly.

“Yesterday marked a grim milestone in our shared fight against COVID-19 – one million people are confirmed to have lost their lives to this new virus. The real number is certainly higher than this,” he said.

More people are fighting for their lives in hospitals all over the world and individuals, communities, and economies “are gripped by fear and uncertainty,” he added.

Still, said Tedros, science is giving the world solutions in the form of new tests, therapeutics, and hopefully a vaccine.

“Science and solutions will be ineffective without solidarity,” he said.

The WHO chief said 167 countries will benefit from the COVID-19 vaccine facility, representing over 70% of the world’s population, with the figure growing daily.

He said this had been achieved with $2.6 billion of start-up funding.

Tedros stressed that now is the time to unleash the full power of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, adding that the financing gap for this program is $75 billion.

The ACT Accelerator, as described by the WHO, is a “groundbreaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.”

The WHO chief said the funding gap was less than 1% of what G20 governments had already committed to domestic stimulus packages.

“To put it another way, it is exactly equivalent to what the world spends on cigarettes every two weeks. Fully financing the ACT accelerator will help to control the funding, restore confidence, and stimulate global recovery,” he explained.

Tedros’ remarks were seen as building on his comments a day earlier, when he said that “we cannot accept a world in which the rich have access to vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics, while the poor miss out.”

“Through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Facility, we’re working to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he said on Tuesday.

COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the ACT Accelerator program, is a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual COVID-19 vaccines, according to the global vaccine alliance GAVI.

It is yet to be confirmed which countries are part of the COVAX Facility.

EU countries, Australia, Britain, Canada, and Switzerland have signed up, while talks are ongoing with China, Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, said on Tuesday.

The US has said it will not join due to President Donald Trump’s disapproval of the WHO, while Russia has given no indication of its plans.

Turkey has expressed its commitment of intent to participate in the facility but has not yet officially joined.

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