The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said scientists are working at "breakneck speed" to develop vaccines and medicine to fight COVID-19, but the world must ensure government-private sector cohesion.

"Now is the moment where leaders must come together to develop a new global access policy," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a video news conference Friday ahead of a two-day World Health Assembly (WHA) that begins Monday.

"Solidarity within and between countries and the private sector is essential if we are to overcome these difficult times," he said.

Before the first virtual WHA, prominent personalities urged world powers to pledge a free "COVID-19 vaccine for all" when available.

The WHA is the decision-making body of WHO that is attended by delegations from all WHO member states.

An open letter signed by more than 140 global leaders and experts urged governments and international partners to ensure when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, "it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge."

"Humanity today, in all its fragility, is searching for an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19. It is our best hope of putting a stop to this painful global pandemic," the letter said.

EU-sponsored response

A EU-sponsored draft resolution on the COVID-19 response is being discussed to safeguard easier access to diagnostics and medical equipment along with potential treatments.

"The access to the COVID-19 accelerator is uniting efforts on many fronts to ensure we have safe, effective, and affordable therapeutics and vaccines in the shortest time possible," said Tedros.

He said such medicines would "provide additional hope of overcoming COVID-19, but they will not end the pandemic if we cannot ensure equitable access to them."

The proposal has the support of more than 65 states, including India, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Zambia and EU nations.

It "calls for the universal, timely, and equitable access to and fair distribution of all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies and products including their components and precursors required in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority."

The WHO chief said the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic means that the full power of science needs to be unleashed to deliver innovations "that are scalable usable and benefit everyone everywhere at the same time."

Some health officials have said privately they worry that the United States' "America First" policy would snap up early supplies and patents for a vaccine that might be developed and slow down access for the rest of the world.