Speech by Dr Hans Kluge, Director of WHO Regional Office for Europe, at Turkic Speaking Countries' Health Ministers' Virtual Meeting

Our sincere thanks to Azerbaijan for their support and contribution to the global response and for standing beside WHO in highlighting our work in countries.

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Ramadan Mubarak!

It’s an honour to be joining you, the Ministers of the Turkic Council for this event.

Yours is a rich history of collaboration and solidarity.

I wish to commend AZE MOH and Minister personally for organization and effective chairmanship of this important meeting at this crucial time and invitation to WHO EURO Regional office.

I am congratulating the Government of AZE and personally President HE Ilham Aliyev – chair of the Turkic Council for organization of an Extraordinary Summit of Turkic Council on 10th April 2020 with attendance of WHO Director General, and wish to commend AZE for allocation of voluntary donation of 5 mln USD to COVID19 solidarity fund as well as highlight personal role of President and First Vice President of AZE  Mehriban Aliyeva in COVID19 response as an excellent example of the Whole of Government approach. I also wish to thank for the recent solidarity support to many members states and WHO by Heydar Aliyev Foundation by lighting the building of HA Center in colors of national flags of the most affected by COVID countries and WHO emblem.

And it is here that I would like to start my short statement. By thanking you for your support to WHO as you confirmed in the Baku Declaration. Your readiness to support the role of the WHO in increasing the “effectiveness of the fight against the pandemic” and your decision to “implement the WHO and other international organization recommendations” are setting the benchmark, globally. I am grateful for your leadership and for helping the world to become a better place.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe shares a special relationship with the Turkic-speaking countries. A strong bond that is clearly evident as we have collectively responded to the pandemic.

Our sincere thanks to Azerbaijan for their support and contribution to the global response and for standing beside WHO in highlighting our work in countries. Thank you for raising our WHO flag! The Government’s response to COVID-19 has seen Azerbaijan act swiftly in implementing physical distancing measures early on during the outbreak, when only a few cases had been recorded. I would also like to note the scale and effectiveness of the excellent risk communications campaigns that have taken place in the country, hand-in-hand with the UN partners. Indeed, Great collaborations have taken place in all of your countries.

Our collaboration with Turkey recently resulted in the ratification of the Host Agreement on Establishment of a WHO Geographically Dispersed Office for Preparedness for Humanitarian and Health Emergencies in Istanbul. As a Region, we are indebted to Turkey’s display of solidarity with other countries, including the countries of Turkic council – in providing/donating  personal protective equipment and supplies to other countries – including Spain, Italy and the UK, whom I know are incredibly grateful. (humanitarian support with PPE and supplies produced in Turkey included Spain, Italy, UK, etc). Your massive scaling up in testing; digitalizing contract tracing; and preparedness for ICU pandemic clinical management capacity, provides lessons learned for all countries.

In Kazakhstan, the government is taking all required measures to manage the situation. Increased testing is ongoing and the readiness and commitment of the Ministry of Health to engage in several research studies: the solidarity trial, a behavioral insights study, a study of the first cases, and a study on the protection of female health care workers. It is very impressive how MOH has shifted to a fully electronic data collection of case data, contract tracing and epidemiological investigations across the country. This shift has allowed for a rapid data collection, analysis and for evidence-based decision making. The rapid construction of new facilities with ICU has been very impressive.

In Kyrgyzstan, the Ministry of Health has established open and transparent information sharing for all people at the press-center of President. Every evening 18:00 all data is shared with media: number of new cases, total number, number of recovered, proportion of medical staff affected; number of death, including age, gender segregation and geographical location. I really want to applaud the Ministry of health-initiated transparent and fast procurement using World Bank group funds. Kyrgyzstan is also signing the WHO Solidarity trial agreement. Our sincere thanks.

In Uzbekistan, the Ministry of Health has been very pro-active, starting its preparedness and response already in January.  The government should be applauded for establishing, at the highest level, an anti-COVID-19 Commission, Chaired by the Prime Minister with members of the Cabinet. I also want to note Uzbekistan’s attention to addressing the health needs but applying an all-of-government approach – particularly taking into account the social and economic implications of COVID-19. My sincere appreciation of the Uzbek Chairing of the CIS Council – as that entity strengthens its collaborative bond to respond to the pandemic.

In Hungary, we would like to acknowledge the government’s steadily increasing testing capacity. Hungary has also placed importance in focusing on long-term care facilities as transmission ‘hotspots’ in the country. The expansion of intensive care unit capacity and increasing availability of PPE among carers in these facilities is a very positive action taken by the government. As is the attention to tracing and isolating suspected cases cases among the sizeable homeless community in Budapest, and special focus on Roma and other children belonging to impoverished or at risk communities (especially in the north east of the country).

You, the Turkic Council has been setting high standards to many in Europe and beyond. Since the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, you have been cooperating closely, including on sharing hospital facilities, providing humanitarian aid and testing kits, and exchanging clinical expertise and medical support. As you are showing, this pandemic is much more than a health crisis – it requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society response.

I am very pleased to note that in all of your countries, WHO’s special relationship is one based on trust, credibility, transparency and impactful delivery of our support. Our country offices stand ready to continue this support and I must take a moment to thank them. Since the beginning of the outbreak in China we stepped in to support Member States’ hospitals, laboratories, surveillance, case-management, risk communication, community engagement, and infection prevention and control missions to ensure their readiness for the expected outbreak. We have conducted 51 country missions in the last 10 weeks, and distributed laboratory testing kits to 21 countries throughout the Region, ensuring their ability to detect the virus. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has be delivered to 17 countries providing frontline health workers with the protection they need to care for COVID-19 patients, saving lives safely. The Country Offices have been very active in bridging and tailoring the WHO technical guidance to your country’s specific situation.

Make no mistake, we remain in the eye of the storm. The five Member States of the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States have reported of about 117,000 cases, of them, more than 110,000 cases in Turkey. The measures activated by you all are already pushing down the occurrence of new cases. This is an important development and yet, needs to be handled with care.

Honourable Ministers, distinguished participants,

I have three take home messages for you today:

  1. Solidarity, collaboration, and partnerships are dominant determinants of how well we respond to COVID-19. I urge the Turkic Council to retain your founding principles and draw upon them for the pandemic response.
  2. Identify, isolate, test, trace and quarantine all suspected cases as best you can. If there is one certain action that effectively controls this pandemic, it is our ability to do this. Some of the countries in this Council are showing real leadership here. I urge you all to follow suit, without stigmatizing or encroaching on individual privacy, and in respect of the rights and wellbeing of everyone in our society.
  3. As you discuss and decide when, under what conditions and how you gradually adjust pandemic response measures, I urge you to refer to our guidance here, released last Friday and sent to your Ministries, on transition considerations. The document and accompnaying framework will help you consider your course of action, and how to avert and manage unwanted outcomes of strategy adjustments and easing of restrictions.

I commit any possible further support to members of the Council and intention to expand cooperation with the Group in the future – e.g. to have a separate session with Turkic Ministers during one of Regional Committees. I wish to use this opportunity to express an intention to expand cooperation at the level of Regional Office with NAM countries during Presidency of AZE and thank MOH in advance for coordination of this activities.

We are fighting together a virus that knows no borders and does not differentiate between the rich and the poor, the strong and the more fragile health systems. Global economies are disrupted.

This is the time to join hands and harness the common human values and spirit, with energy, knowledge, skills – based on solidarity and humanitarian values. With your trust we will continue to rise to the challenge together and adapt to a “new normal” through building a new society, with resilient social and health systems. Together we will win this fight.

Finally, I wish to conclude my intervention by recent remark of the President of AZE in regards with Country response to COVID – “United we are strong !”, which is also the motto of my Vision for Health in Europe:

“BIRLIKDA BIZ GUJLUYUK” . Thank you.

Speech by
Author
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge
Director of Regional Office for Europe
WHO
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge
UN entities involved in this initiative
WHO
World Health Organization