Minister Temido, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down.
It has infected over 120 million people and it pains me to say that we are not far from reaching the grim, tragic milestone of 3 million deaths worldwide.
The pandemic has had unimaginable social and economic consequences.
However – and this is a crucial point – this pandemic has also given us a wakeup call.
Firstly, it has shone a light on the fundamental and foundational role that health plays in our societies and our economies.
And secondly, it has reminded us how connected we all are – and of the importance of partnerships, of collaboration, of global solidarity.
Our greatest challenges – like COVID-19, climate change, and the rise of antimicrobial resistance - are shared ones. We must confront them together.
And in our response to this pandemic, we must base our efforts on the simplest, most humane principle of all – no one is safe until everyone is safe.
I am delighted to join you today, and I want to thank our Portuguese hosts for organising this important conference.
All around us, we see powerful examples of what we can achieve when we work together.
From day 1 of this pandemic, the EU has been at the forefront of these efforts. Alongside the World Health Organization, governments, international organisations, philanthropists and civil society, the European Union was a founding donor of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator – a ground-breaking collaboration to accelerate the development, production and availability of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.
In early May, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen led the Coronavirus Global Response pledging marathon with international partners. Together, we raised nearly EUR 16 billion for equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
COVAX, the Accelerator’s vaccine pillar, is a powerful example of collaboration.
Rather than competing with each other, 190 countries have joined this global mechanism to secure and deliver vaccines fairly -- to the benefit of middle-and low-income countries.
This is not about putting one country first – instead, it puts global health and global solidarity first. And it will benefit us all.
Day by day, the number of countries receiving vaccines is increasing.
And I am proud that – with a contribution of EUR 2.2 billion – the European Union, its Member States and financial institutions, acting as Team Europe, are among COVAX’s lead donors.
Team Europe has also provided over EUR 40 billion in financial, emergency and in-kind support to international partners and countries to combat the COVID-19 pandemic now and for the longer term.
In addition, we are establishing an EU Vaccine Sharing Mechanism based on fairness, zero waste and solidarity.
Yesterday, we issued a revised EU export transparency mechanism, which seeks to apply the principles of proportionality, reciprocity, and equality to vaccine distribution. Calls for solidarity by others must be backed up with concrete action.
I want to assure you that this revision will not affect our contributions to COVAX, nor our commitment to global solidarity. The EU will continue to provide robust financial, scientific and hands-on support.
We will continue to lead global efforts -- with global solidarity at their core -- to beat COVID-19.
And I call on other partner countries to join us in this endeavour.
COVID-19, like any virus, is targeting the weak points in our societies.
It has widened social inequalities, is reversing decades of progress in sustainable development, and is pushing hundreds of millions of people back into poverty, hunger and instability.
In fact, earlier this week, the UN warned that over 30 million people were one-step away from starvation. This is unacceptable to me. It should be unacceptable to us all.
We need to reaffirm our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals – and to the principles of human rights, equality and inclusion.
The EU remains steadfast in our pursuit of the SDGs, which provide a vital blueprint for global action. We will continue to apply a rights-based and universal approach to health.
We have been partnering with the WHO for almost a decade, and our overall aim is to support stronger health systems and to achieve Universal Health Coverage.
Between 2014 and 2020, the EU provided EUR 1.3 billion to support the health sector in 17 low-income countries, mainly in Africa.
The same amount has gone into global initiatives like the Global Fund, Gavi, the United Nations Population Fund and the WHO.
We also need to confront the rise of Antimicrobial resistance – a major global health threat that is like a silent pandemic.
We need to learn the lessons from COVID-19, and that means pushing forward the AMR agenda now, before it is too late. I want to take this opportunity to call for a more comprehensive One Health Global Action Plan, that also addresses the environmental effects of AMR.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Strengthening global health is a collective effort, based on global commitment, effective multilateralism and robust multilateral institutions.
A strong WHO is a vital part of that equation.
In fact, interim reports from the three independent panels reviewing the WHO-led response refer to the need for stronger political commitment in health emergencies.
The European Union is actively working with WHO members in Geneva to strengthen the Organisation as a global coordinator in health emergencies.
Our Delegation in Geneva is leading consultations on a new resolution on this very issue for the World Health Assembly in May.
In parallel, we are also organising a Global Health Summit with the Italian G20 Presidency on 21 May to reinforce global cooperation and develop a stronger response to infectious disease outbreaks.
We also support the current G7 Presidency’s efforts on health security, clinical trials and the One Health approach.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
COVID-19 has challenged us all in unprecedented ways. But it has also given us an opportunity to renew our relationship with each other and with the world around us.
So let us grasp this opportunity to build stronger global health systems – based on collaboration, multilateralism, equality and human rights.
These efforts will lead to more equal, more resilient and more sustainable societies – and this is certainly worth fighting for.