November 8, 2021 – Thank you for joining us today for our regional press briefing on COVID-19.
Yesterday, November 7, the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region reported nearly 16.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19. We have also tragically marked the deaths of over 300,000 people in our Region since the start of the pandemic.
The overall trend of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths has declined in recent weeks in the Region. Despite this welcome overall drop in the number of cases and deaths in the Region, we remain cautious and concerned. COVID-19 is far from over in our Region. We are still seeing an increase in cases and deaths in 10 countries this week, compared to the week before.
Premature easing and non-compliance with public health and social measures, as well as low immunization coverage, continue to put more lives at risk. We have observed the consequences of these actions in countries in Europe and Central Asia in recent weeks, which have seen an increase in cases as a result. The total number of cases worldwide is also starting to rise again.
In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, we have seen a range of varying levels of public adoption of personal COVID-19 prevention measures, largely guided by the broader public health and social measures applied in each country. In a regional study conducted across 22 countries, we identified that only 66% of respondents reported wearing a mask all or most of the time, and only 78% of respondents reported washing their hands often. Only half of those surveyed said they stay at least 2 meters from people in public all or most of the time.
This is not how we will end the pandemic. The only sure way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to do it all: get vaccinated, maintain physical distance, wash your hands, avoid congested and closed spaces, and wear a mask. We also urge people to stay informed with the latest and correct news on COVID-19, and not to give in to fear or rumors. All the latest information on COVID-19, variants, vaccines and other issues can be found on WHO’s websites and social media accounts.
Vaccinations continue to be deployed, with more than 417 million doses administered in our Region. WHO has set a global goal of immunizing at least 40% of the population in each country by the end of 2021. As of November 3, 2021, 14 countries in our Region are on track to achieve this goal. Eight countries are still lagging behind, with less than 10% of their population fully immunized. We are working with ministries of health and partners to accelerate these immunization targets.
Although there are several factors that prevent countries from deploying vaccines more widely, including unequal access to vaccines, conflict, instability and weak health systems, it is essential to empower communities. comprehensive information to build confidence and support demand for vaccines and other public health services. measures.
On a positive note, we are seeing a high level of public acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines across the Region, with 80% of participants in our regional survey confirming that they would accept the vaccine.
The supply of vaccines to low- and low-middle-income countries increases dramatically in the last quarter of this year. A third of the total doses delivered by the COVAX facility to our region have been delivered during the last 4 weeks. To fight inequalities, COVAX prioritizes low and low middle income countries for vaccine supply.
We need to work with communities and their leaders to build confidence and demand for vaccines by responding to all rumors, misinformation, concerns to ensure improved immunization coverage. Since the start of the pandemic, WHO has regularly stressed the need to involve communities in the COVID-19 response. The importance of community engagement and participation cannot be understated.
By empowering and supporting communities to take an active role in decision-making in the public health response, we can find solutions that integrate local capacities, resources and structures, and are much more acceptable, sustainable and culturally. appropriate.
For example, in Tunisia, we saw how contact tracing teams have been much more effective in identifying those at risk when working alongside trusted local leaders and partnering with community service organizations to ensure that quarantined households meet their basic needs.
In Somalia, community health workers form the backbone of community engagement efforts in different states to raise awareness about COVID-19 and are invaluable in reaching inaccessible and hard-to-reach areas of the country.
And in Bahrain, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, we saw how volunteers have played an important role in improving compliance with public health measures by mobilizing resources to obtain and distribute masks and hand sanitizers to the public, especially vulnerable populations.
However, these trends differ considerably from country to country and are also influenced by the context of each country. For example, we know that for some of our most vulnerable communities, especially internally displaced people, migrants and refugees, often live in overcrowded camps with a lack of access to clean water. , which creates obstacles for them to adopt these protective measures.
As we know, community engagement also has a positive impact beyond COVID-19, reducing individual risks of other common communicable diseases.
As a region, it is essential that we learn from these lessons and move on to involve communities and civil society organizations at all levels of public health emergency preparedness and response. This means ensuring that they are involved from the start in identifying the main risks and needs of their community, as well as in designing and implementing practical solutions to mitigate and respond to any health threats. public that affect them, including COVID-19.
No single country or agency can end this pandemic on its own. Over the past 22 months, we have seen time and again that we can only be successful if we work with all stakeholders at all levels, including communities and civil societies that are affected or at risk. This is our vision in the Region to ensure âHealth for all by allâ