WHO chief Europe Kluge calls for bigger vaccination campaign
Millions of people in Europe and around the world are grappling with the consequences of COVID-19. Over four million people have lost their lives, many businesses have gone bankrupt and, of course, this has taken a heavy toll on mental health, which was also the theme of the summit held in Athens by the World Health Organization and the Greek Ministry of Health.
To discuss this and the pandemic in general, Euronews spoke to the WHO Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge.
We begin with the recent development of the investigations of the international delegation in China regarding the origins of the virus. On the one hand, we recently had the head of the organization who said that it was perhaps a little premature to rule out a leak, a laboratory leak. And on the other hand, China has rejected the plan proposed by the WHO for a second phase of investigation.
Do you have any clues to suggest that there has been a lab leak? And what are you going to do from now on?
“I think this is a question for Dr Tedros of the WHO in Geneva, as I am the WHO Regional Director for Europe, which encompasses the 53 European Member States, and China does not. So I was not aware of the mission. So the information I have is the same as what our CEO is hearing, that all options are on the table and should be explored. It should be remembered that at the time of the investigations into the origin of MERS or the SARS 1 virus, it took between one and two and a half years to establish a link between the virus and the intermediate host. ‘such an investigation takes a little time.
As a WHO official, do you think this is going to be difficult?
“Well, I think that’s a question, honestly, for Dr Tedros in Geneva, because I’m responsible for the 53 European Member States of the WHO. China is not one of them. So I think it wouldn’t be fair for me to honestly comment on this as I don’t deal with China. But I see that Dr Tedros has appealed for experts to establish an expert group to advance the second phase of the investigations. And I think we should give this investigation some time to move forward. “
Vaccination in Europe is the way out of this pandemic. Are the figures satisfactory?
“The exit from the pandemic, I would say, is threefold. I call it the VIP approach. The ‘V’ of the variants. We need to study the variants very closely, in this case the Delta variant, which attacks people who are not or insufficiently vaccinated. The “I” of vaccination, we need to step up. The answer is therefore no, it is not yet sufficient. We have 26% coverage in the European region, then the “P” of people We must engage more with people, encourage them to be vaccinated, but also respect public health measures, in particular the wearing of masks when you cannot take a distance of a meter and a half. “
Where are you with compulsory vaccinations? It is a very hot debate at the moment in Europe.
“This is a very hot debate. WHO therefore encourages any measure to increase immunization coverage as long as it is legally and socially acceptable. But it should not be a first resort because we must first try to understand what it is. that’s going on in people’s minds., what are their perceptions, and then engaging with communities that are reluctant to get vaccinated. And we have a lot of experience with the behavior analysis service to convince people, using influencers, look at who hesitates and think who can influence these people in a way of dialogue. “
Are countries like Africa and Asia left behind because they cannot afford a vaccine?
“Absolutely. We see a huge inequity in this. Even in the pan-European region, there are ten countries with less than 10% coverage. And you are right, if you look at some African countries, solidarity is the only way out. “is safe as long as not everyone is safe because the aggressive Delta variant crosses borders. But I see a lot more solidarity, including from Greece, which is donating vaccines to other countries.” ”
How concerned are you about the new variants? Do you think there could be new ones that are more contagious or more dangerous?
“There will definitely be something new. There have been hundreds and hundreds of variations and we have been monitoring this from the very beginning. But often they are not that bad. This Delta and Delta variation plus we have to watch it very closely. But what’s the solution? The more transmission, the more variants. In other words, we need to step up vaccination.
You presented the results of the survey on the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in Europe, what are the key points of these results.
“The key point is that mental health was a challenge before the pandemic. It is the leading cause of disability. One in six people, say, (during) COVID three times has had a mental health disorder. The big finding Now of the investigation is that each of us is vulnerable. Anyone, even if they are strong for a while, can develop a mental health disorder, especially anxiety, depression. And this is what that the Athens summit is doing. I am very grateful to Greece, Prime Minister, Minister of Health Kikilias for bringing mental health out of the shadows. It has to be the cornerstone of our society, of our way of life. Mental health is everyone’s business. “
Can you detail the survey results a bit?
“We need to focus first and foremost on what we call high risk groups, for example, children, adolescents, because they have suffered a lot from the school closures. Schools are not only a setting for education, but they also offer some social protection, for example, against domestic violence, which is not a very big concern. But also the survey showed that we need to pay much more attention to our health and social service workers. And I would really like to express my gratitude to all the Greek and European health workers who have been and still are the heroes of this pandemic. “
You said our goal should be to chart a new course for mental health promotion and care. Do you think this is possible amid the restrictions due to the pandemic?
Absoutely. We have no choice. Extraordinary times require extraordinary solutions. And at the WHO Europe board in September, we hope to get approval for a European action plan. “