• Says some diseases have remained despite vaccines
• 140 world leaders, experts join race for the cure
• NCDC tasks Nigeria on global anti-virus partnership

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the coronavirus (COVID-19) “may never go away.” It, therefore, warned against any attempt to predict how long it would keep circulating and called for a “massive effort” to counter it.

WHO emergencies expert, Mike Ryan, told an online briefing on Wednesday: “It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities.

“I think it is important we are realistic and I don’t think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear. I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates. This disease may settle into a long problem, or it may not be.”

But according to him, the world has some control over how it copes with the disease, although this would take a “massive effort” even if a vaccine is found — a prospect he described as a “massive moonshot”.

Ryan noted that vaccines exist for other illnesses, such as measles, that have not been eliminated.

COVID-19 may never go away, WHO warns

This picture taken on May 12, 2020, shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
“We need to get into the mindset that it is going to take some time to come out of this pandemic,” WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told the briefing.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus added: “The trajectory is in our hands, and it’s everybody’s business, and we should all contribute to stopping this pandemic.”

This came as more than 140 world leaders and experts yesterday signed an open letter calling on all governments to unite behind a people’s vaccine against COVID-19.

The signatories include President of South Africa and Chair of the African Union Cyril Ramaphosa; Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan; President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall; and President of the Republic of Ghana Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

The letter, which marked the most ambitious position yet by world leaders on a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statement by the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), demanded that all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass-produced, distributed fairly and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.

Coordinated by UNAIDS and Oxfam, the letter warned that the world should not have monopolies and competition stand in the way of the universal need to save lives.

The leaders recognised that progress is being made and that many countries and international organisations are cooperating multilaterally on research and development, funding and access, including the $8 billion pledged on May 4 at the European Union’s international pledging marathon.

However, as many countries and companies proceed with unprecedented speed to develop an effective vaccine, the leaders called for concrete commitments to ensure it is affordable and available to all in the quickest possible time.

Some of their resolutions include a mandatory worldwide pooling of patents and sharing of all COVID-19-related knowledge, data and technologies in order to ensure that any nation can produce or buy affordable doses of vaccines, treatments and tests.

The rapid establishment of an equitable global manufacturing and distribution plan for all vaccines, treatments and tests that is fully funded by rich nations and which guarantees transparent ‘at true cost prices’ and supplies in accordance with need rather than the ability to pay.

This would include an urgent action to massively increase manufacturing capacity to produce the vaccines in sufficient quantities and train and recruit millions of health workers to distribute them.

A guarantee that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests are provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere, with priority given to frontline workers, vulnerable people and poor countries with the least capacity to save lives.

Ramaphosa said: “Billions of people today await a vaccine that is our best hope of ending this pandemic. As the countries of Africa, we are resolute that the COVID-19 vaccine must be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed and free for all. All science must be shared between governments. No people should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn.”

Khan, said: “We must work together to beat this virus. We must pool all the knowledge, experience and resources at our disposal for the good of all humanity. No leader can rest easy until every individual in every nation is able to rapidly access a vaccine free of charge.”

Other signatories include former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Gordon Brown; former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo; former United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark.

Also, during the daily media briefing by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 yesterday, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu commended global efforts towards developing an effective vaccine. He noted however that Nigeria would only benefit if “we engage globally to have access to diagnostics and therapeutics.”

Ihekweazu said: “When the vaccine is developed, access and cost will be a great problem and that is why we need to engage globally. As we look inwards, we need to look globally.

“The vaccine for the Human Papilloma Virus that causes cervical cancer has been around for a long time but Nigerians do not yet have enough access due to the exorbitant cost. So, this is why we must continue to engage with the international community.We can only get out of this if we know and believe that we can only be stronger together.”

Meanwhile, a United States-based Nigerian vaccinologist, Dr. Simon Agwale, on Wednesday, commended the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for pledging to fund indigenous health researches towards finding homegrown vaccines for coronavirus, saying it would make the nation’s health sector responsive to emerging health challenges.

CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele had on Tuesday in Abuja said the apex bank would provide funding for the project.

Agwale, who is the Chief Executive of Innovative Biotech, said: “This is what we have been calling for. Nigeria is blessed with scientists, both at home and abroad, and what they need is just an enabling environment. We have the resources, which when properly exploited, can make Nigeria one of the health destinations of the world.”

He added: “Resorting overseas for everything kills our economy and makes us perpetually dependent.”

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