Global health organizations have never been closer to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. But unequal access to vaccines and medical care has left significant gaps, threatening worldwide efforts.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing Wednesday that the number of weekly reported deaths from COVID-19 is now the lowest since March 2020.
"We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic," Tedros said. "We're not there yet, but the end is in sight."
COVID deaths fell by 22% in the past week, the WHO reported, reaching just over 11,000 worldwide. There were 3.1 million new cases in the same time frame, a drop of 28% that he said continues a weeks-long global decline. According to the WHO's COVID-19 stats published online, there were 37,515 weekly deaths in the last week of March 2020; by comparison, 11,313 were recorded for the week of Sept. 5, 2022 -- although the WHO recorded 8,880 deaths in the week of May 30, 2022.
So far, 2,812 weekly deaths have been tabulated for the week of Sept. 12.
To date, there have been more than 6.5 million deaths from COVID reported globally, according to John Hopkins University, with 1.05 million in the US. More than 12 billion doses of have been administered worldwide. But the distribution has been far from equitable, Tedros said, with only 2% of vaccines administered in African nations.
The WHO established a goal of vaccinating at least 40% of every country's population by the end of 2022. So far, only two African nations have reached that benchmark, Tedros said, which is "the lowest of any region."
"This leaves people at high risk of disease and death, exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection," he said.
While decreases in COVID-related deaths have been reported in the Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, there's been a 10% increase in deaths in Africa.
"The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective," Tedros added.
Comparing the campaign to end the pandemic to a marathon, he added that a runner doesn't stop when they see the finish line.
"She runs harder with all the energy she has left," Tedros said. "Now is the worst time to stop running. Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work."
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