Don’t blame African countries for Omicron discovery: WHO

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Photo credit: Christopher Black | WHO | AFP

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has registered fresh disappointment in the way African countries have been punished for detecting and reporting the Omicron, a new variant of Covid-19.

Speaking at the inaugural International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2021) that came to an end last Thursday, Dr Tedros said instead of victimisation, the countries should have been commended for their transparency.

“Though I am pleased that the travel bans on the affected countries have been lifted, it is disappointing that they were penalised for being transparent in the first place,” he said.

Since the announcement of the Omicron variant, various countries banned travellers from some Southern African countries, while others implemented stringent screening measures for those entering their borders from that part of the world.

While reiterating the theme of the conference, Building A New Efficient And Strong Public Health Order, he said African health systems continue to be overwhelmed especially during the pandemic. “Progress against HIV, TB and malaria among other diseases, has either stalled or gone back,” Dr Tedros said.

But despite this, he commended the African Union (AU) for its strong leadership during the pandemic, adding that the WHO remains committed to supporting continental institutions.

He underscored the importance of continued investment in health systems and research within the continent, adding that the continent needs to build capacity by investing heavily in primary health care.

While awarding distinguished healthcare professionals as a recognition of their contributions to science, research and development in Africa, Director at Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong, said it is time for the continent to handle its health destiny.

Some of the professionals who were awarded include Professor Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, General Director, National Institute of Biomedical Research and Professor of Medical Virology at the University of Kinshasa and Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director, CAPRISA, who received the lifetime achievement in public health award.

The three-day virtual event, which was hosted by the AU and the Africa CDC, ran from December 14 to December 16, 2021, and featured presentations from some African Heads of State and Government, dignitaries and leading health experts, who discussed how to accelerate progress against COVID-19 and chart a new path forward for public health on the continent.

The next CPHIA is expected to be hosted in Rwanda, between December 13 and 15, 2022.

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