The World Health Organization estimates that at least 115,000 healthcare workers have lost their lives in the fight against coronavirus, the WHO chief said Monday on the opening day of the 74th World Health Assembly.
"We estimate that at least 115,000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price in the service for others," WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said.
"We will lose many more as long as the pandemic rages," he added.
"Health and care workers do heroic things. But they are not superheroes. They're humans, like the rest of us. They sweat and swear. They laugh and cry. They feel and hope many feel frustrated. Helpless," said Tedros.
He said they are affected by a lack of access to personal protective equipment, vaccines, and tools to save lives.
"Globally, we remain in a fragile situation. No country should assume it is out of the woods," Tedros warned.
'We are at war with a virus'
The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of WHO and meets each year typically. In 2021, it is meeting virtually for the second time due to the pandemic.
Also addressing the meeting, the UN chief Antonio Guterres said: "We are at war with a virus. We need the logic and urgency of a war economy to boost the capacity of our weapons."
He said that COVID-19 has brought a "tsunami of suffering."
Switzerland's Health Minister Alain Berset made the opening speech of the gathering in Geneva, which will run through on June 1.
"As we have sought to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that we are now facing new threats," said Berset.
"Of course, we see the proliferation of variants of the virus, but we also see threats related to the socio-economic consequences of the crisis."
'Scandalous inequity' in vaccine distribution
On the unequal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, Tedros said: "The ongoing vaccine crisis is a scandalous inequity that is perpetuating the pandemic."
"More than 75% of all vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries."
He said that no variants have emerged that significantly undermine the efficacy of vaccine diagnostics or therapeutics.
"But there is no guarantee that will remain the case. This virus is changing constantly. Future changes could render our tools ineffective and drag us back to square one.
"We must be very clear; the pandemic is not over. And it will not be over until and unless transmission is controlled in every last country," the WHO chief said.
More personal protective equipment needed
Tedros said the world must do its part to ensure health workers' safety, and manufacturers must boost supplies of personal protective equipment.
"Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries," he said.
Speaking at the meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron said: "The first lesson that we can learn from this pandemic is that we can only succeed together; no country alone will save itself, and no country alone will save the others."
"Therefore, the only international response has to be cooperation."
Macron urged the assembly to consider adopting a pandemic treaty to be debated, but the US had stated reservations about such an accord.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country "shares that view" on the pandemic treaty.
"We should take up these proposals, devise joint rules, and make sure that they adhere to this and would serve to enhance not only preparedness in each individual nation, but also joint alert and response capabilities," said Merkel.
"The pandemic reminds us, in particular, of just how important international cooperation is."
The pandemic treaty would create a high-level, binding instrument covering countries' obligations to prepare for, prevent, and respond to disease threats more transparently and equitably.