The 73rd World Health Assembly that kicks off in Geneva on Monday is a victory for multilateralism in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s the view of South Africa’s lead diplomat in Geneva who represents Pretoria at the United Nations in Switzerland in addition to international bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Assembly – the highest decision-making body of the WHO – is expected to adopt a draft resolution that, among others, calls for a collaborative effort in the development and licensing of safe, effective therapeutics and vaccines that facilitate equitable and affordable access to them.

The Assembly comes at a time when the societies are in the grips of a pandemic and where its deliberations will be closely scrutinized.

SA Ambassador to the WHO, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko says they are grateful to the organisation’s president for providing leadership at a time when it is needed.

“What member states of the UN are saying is that they are immensely grateful to our president for giving leadership at a time when global leadership is needed, sorely needed. Our President along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Macron of France and then SG of the UN in a partnership including Bill Gates, were first to say ‘as Global leaders, we’re in this together. We know it is frightening. We know it creates insecurity, but we best deal with this together.’”

In the video below, UN Correspondent Sherwin Bryce-Pease chatted to Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko and began by asking her what goals and benchmarks her delegation had set for the two-day event:

Draft resolution

The draft resolution, co-sponsored by the European Union and the Africa Group, calls for an intensification of cooperation and collaboration at all levels to contain, control and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

It reiterates the importance of urgently meeting the needs of low and middle-income countries to overcome it, to provide the WHO with timely, accurate and detailed public health information and to work collaboratively on a vaccine for all.

“To have it in a resolution, you have to understand that, to have it in a resolution in the first place, including language that mentioned the WTO’s trips flexibilities, is an incredible thing. Where the resolution is at, it’s not going to be changed. That is the language that is final and that is indicative of a consensus that was hard-fought for and developing countries were able to rally around,” Mxakato-Diseko explains.

SABC News Foreign editor Sophie Mokoena on the draft resolution: 

As concerns mount about which countries might get any effective vaccine first, Director-General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says that they need to release the full power of science to deliver innovations that are scalable.

“In these extraordinary circumstances, we need to unleash the full power of science to deliver innovations that are scalable, usable and benefit everyone, everywhere, at the same time. Traditional market models will not deliver at the scale needed to cover the entire globe.”

While the issue of Taiwan’s observer status to the WHO will again come under the spotlight – a region thought to have had one of the best public health responses to the outbreak seeking to be admitted to the organisation over China’s objections – Mxakato-Diseko says this is not the first time Taiwan’s observer status will come under the spotlight.

“This recurs every year. This is not the first time this has happened. It routinely happens every year that the issue of Taiwan is raised in relation to the on-China policy. So, this is not unusual. The second thing that is not accurate is that Taiwan has been excluded from collaboration and the processes of the WHO. That is not accurate. As I’m talking to you, there are Taiwanese technical experts collaborating with technical experts from all over the world. That has been the case. It was the case with SARS; it was the case with Ebola; it’s always been the situation. The unfortunate thing is the noise that this has created is creating a political dynamic that we hope it is going to be managed in the traditional way.”

As the rumour mill swirls with speculation as to the future of Dr Tedros over his initial handling of the pandemic, the first African to lead the organisation, Mxakato-Diseko says this is an extraordinary campaign.

“The campaign, I think, has been an extraordinary campaign. We’ve not witnessed anything. I dare say in multilateralism, in recent years, that we get into a global situation where all of us, all countries are supposed to rally together instead of rising together, there is blaming who did this and that. It’s rather like your house is on fire, rather than putting out the fire, you’re searching for maybe the cinder that might have caused the fire and in the course of that, you’re likely to burn yourself.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the opening high-level segment along with the leaders of Germany, South Korea and the United Nations.