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UN launches major humanitarian appeal to keep COVID-19 from ‘circling back around the globe’

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2020, Humanitarian Aid - To confront the unprecedented worldwide challenge posed by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, top UN officials on Wednesday, launched a massive humanitarian appeal to mitigate its impact, particularly on fragile countries with weak health systems.

At a joint virtual press briefing, Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore and World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, launched a $2 billion coordinated global humanitarian response plan, to fight COVID-19 in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries in a bid to protect the millions most at risk.

No country in the world will ever be free from the grip of the terrible if we don’t work together to fight it now in the poorest & most vulnerable places on our planet.

We call on governments to please support the humanitarian plan

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‘Step up for the vulnerable’

Having gained a foothold in 195 countries with more than 400,000 reported cases and close to 20,000 reported deaths, COVID-19 is reaching more and more areas of the world grappling with conflict, natural disasters and climate change.

The UN chief stressed that a global approach is the only way to fight the coronavirus

“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity – and so the whole of humanity must fight back”, he said, underscoring that “individual country responses are not going to be enough”.

Assisting the “ultra-vulnerable” – the millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves – is not only “a matter of basic human solidarity” but also crucial for combating the virus, according to Mr. Guterres. 

“This is the moment to step up for the vulnerable”, he stated.

Organized by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the interagency plan brings together existing appeals from WHO and other UN partners as well as identifies new needs.

Properly funded, it will save many lives and arm humanitarian agencies with laboratory supplies for testing and medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers. 

“The plan also includes additional measures to support host communities that continue to generously open their homes and towns to refugees and displaced persons”, explained the Secretary-General.

He closed with the somber note that if funding aimed to stem the impact of COVID-19 in already vulnerable humanitarian contexts is diverted, “the consequences could be catastrophic”.

Tipping whole regions into chaos 

The UN humanitarian chief warned that failing to help vulnerable countries fight the coronavirus now could place millions at risk. 
Pointing out that COVID-19 has already upended life in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that it is now reaching people living in warzones, with no soap and clean water and or hospital bed should they fall critically ill.

“If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places, we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe”, he spelled out.  

He acknowledged that countries battling the pandemic at home are “rightly prioritizing” their own communities, but added “the hard truth” that if they do not act now to help the poorest countries protect themselves, they would be failing to protect their own people. 

“Our priority is to help these countries prepare and continue helping the millions who rely on humanitarian assistance from the UN to survive”, he said. 

“Properly funded, our global response effort will equip humanitarian organizations with the tools to fight the virus, save lives, and help contain the spread of COVID-19 worldwide”, concluded the Humanitarian Coordinator.

To boost the response plan, Mr. Lowcock released an additional $60 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, bringing CERF’s support to the COVID-19 pandemic to $75 million. In addition, country-based pooled funds have allocated more than $3 million, to date.

‘History will judge us’

As the pandemic continues to accelerate, the WHO chief said that “most worrying” of all, was the danger the virus poses to people already affected by crisis. 

“The virus is now spreading in countries with weak health systems, including some which are already facing humanitarian crises”, said Mr. Ghebreyesus. 

“People and communities that are already uprooted due to conflict, displacement, the climate crisis or other disease outbreaks are the ones we must urgently prioritize”, he underscored. 

The agency head sent a clear message to all countries to “heed this warning now, back this plan politically and financially today and we can save lives and slow the spread of this pandemic”. 

“History will judge us on how we responded to the poorest communities in their darkest hour”, he concluded, “Let’s act together, right now!”

‘Hidden victims’

Meanwhile, UNICEF chief Ms. Fore, said that children are “the hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic”. 
Lockdowns and school closures are affecting their education, mental health and access to basic health services and raising the risks of exploitation and abuse. 

“For children on the move or living through conflicts, the consequences will be unlike any we have ever seen”, she warned. “We must not let them down.”

Ms. Fore vowed that with support from the international community, among other things, we can “shore up preparedness and response plans in countries with weaker healthcare systems” and provide short- and long-term assistance on the health, well-being, development and prospects of children.  

©UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti
People self-quarantined in Italy make a show of solidarity.

Debt relief milestone in Somalia, as World Bank, IMF, call for global payment suspension in light of COVID-19

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2020, Economic Development - The top United Nations official in Somalia congratulated the Horn of Africa nation on Wednesday for achieving the benchmark set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), confirming its eligibility for debt relief. 

James Swan, Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Somalia (UNSOM), said that by reaching the so-called “decision point” for debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries’ Initiative (HIPC), Somalia has passed an historic milestone on its path to peace and prosperity. 

An historic milestone today on ’s path to peace and prosperity: the country has reached the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative’s (HIPC) ‘Decision Point’ for debt relief. Read more:
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“Achievement of the HIPC decision point is a major step forward for Somalia’s economic progress, allowing the country to advance towards its long-term objective of inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction,” he said in a statement. 

“All Somalis can be proud of this achievement,” he added. 

The development is welcome news for Somalia – which is carrying $5.2 billion of debt - as it prepares for one-person, one-vote elections later this year against the backdrop of extreme humanitarian challenges. 

Some 5.2 million are in need of assistance, alongside ongoing attacks by the Al-Shabaab terrorist group and the worst locust outbreak in 25 years. 

Global debt relief call: World Bank, IMF 

It also coincided with a call by the World Bank Group (WBG) and the IMF for all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from the world’s 76 poorest countries and enable them to redirect funds towards confronting the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a joint statement, the two Washington-based institutions also asked leaders of the G-20 leading economies to task them at their spring meetings on 16 to 17 April with assessing the impact and financing needs of each of the countries, which are part of the International Development Association (IDA). 

Mr. Swan, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, said that the country’s debt breakthrough was testament to the federal authorities’ ability to manage public finances.  “It also reflects strong collaboration between the Federal Government and the federal member states,” he added. “The World Bank Group and the IMF believe it is imperative at this moment to provide a global sense of relief for developing countries as well as a strong signal to financial markets,” it said. 

The World Bank and the IMF established the HIPC Initiative in 1996, to ensure that no poor country finds itself in a situation in which it cannot service and manage its debt burden. 

Reaching “decision point” not only confirms Somalia’s eligibility for debt relief, but also fully normalizes its relations with international financial institutions.  It will also now qualify for certain types of grant financing to meet its public finance and development needs and to access private-sector financing instruments. 

The second and final step after decision point, known as the completion point, would open the way for full and irrevocable reduction in debt under the HIPC Initiative. 

In a press release, the IMF said debt relief for Somalia – the 37th country to reach decision point – would help it make last change for its 15 million people by allowing its debt to be irrevocably reduced from $5.2 billion at the end of 2018 to $557 million once it reaches completion point in about three years’ time. 


UN chief calls for ceasefire as Yemen braces for possible COVID-19 outbreak

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2020, Peace and Security - Echoing his 23 March appeal to warring parties across the globe for an immediate ceasefire, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities and ramp up efforts to counter a potential outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“More than five years of conflict have devastated the lives of tens of millions of Yemenis,” the UN chief said in a statement today, adding that an escalation in fighting in the towns of Al Jawf and Ma’rib now threatens to deepen human suffering.

The Secretary-General called on the parties in Yemen to work with his Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, to achieve a nation-wide de-escalation. He also urged them to make progress on economic and humanitarian measures aimed at alleviating suffering and building confidence, and to resume an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process.

“A political solution is the only way to a comprehensive and sustainable resolution of the conflict in Yemen,” stressed the UN chief.

Resurgent violence amid a global pandemic

Yemen has seen a series of fits and starts in efforts to ends its bloody civil conflict, which began in 2015 and has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises.

At the close of 2019, Special Envoy Griffiths reported a significant “drop in the tempo of war”, including an 80 per cent reduction in airstrikes in some areas. An agreement was also signed unifying divided Government factions.

However, on 12 March, Mr. Griffiths warned the UN Security Council that a fresh escalation in violence once again threatens the quest for a political resolution.

Pointing to the recent military escalation in Al Jawf, he expressed concern about the impact of the violence on the people of that governorate – where thousands of families have been displaced and require shelter and assistance – and cautioned that critical humanitarian measures must not be politicized.

The spike in violence comes as outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic have appeared in more countries around the globe.

Bracing for possible outbreak

According to a statement by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative in Yemen, Auke Lootsma, Yemen had no cases of COVID-19 as of 17 March.

However, the situation is being recognized as “the largest public health emergency of our time” with economic and social impacts yet to be determined. COVID-19 is quickly showing its impact with a growing number of cases in an increasing number of countries across the region.

In preparation for a possible outbreak, UNDP is working closely with Yemeni authorities as well as local and national implementing partners to ensure adequate contingency measures allowing for the continued delivery of its critical programmes.

“This is an evolving situation – one that requires caution and levelheadedness regarding the health and well-being of staff, partners and Yemeni communities,” said the Resident Representative.

Ceasefires needed to combat COVID-19

In his broad appeal to warring parties earlier this week, the Secretary-General emphasized that the world now faces a common enemy – the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, which has now been reported in more than 180 countries.

“It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” he said.

Senior UN officials have issued specific appeals to warring parties – including those engaged in the nine-year-old conflict in Syria - to silence their weapons and launch an “all-out effort” to counter possible outbreaks of the virus.

The Special Envoy for Yemen echoed those sentiments in a tweet today, stressing that battlefields are dividing Yemen and making it harder to combat potential outbreaks of the pandemic.

"The time to act is now,” he said. “I urge the parties to hear [the Secretary-General’s] call, work with my office to de-escalate violence nationwide and work together to protect the Yemeni people."


UN rights chief urges quick action by governments to prevent devastating impact of COVID-19 in places of detention

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2020, Human Rights - COVID-19 has begun to strike in prisons, jails and immigration detention centres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned on Wednesday, as she urged Governments “not to forget hose behind bars” and to protect those working in closed facilities in their overall efforts to contain the pandemic

“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so,” Ms. Bachelet said, making physical distancing and self-isolation practically impossible. People are often held in unhygienic conditions.

Health services are inadequate – or non-existent – and the virus “risks rampaging” through these vulnerable populations.

As Governments make tough decisions, she urged them not to forget those behind bars, or confined in such places as mental health facilities, nursing homes and orphanages.

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“The consequences of neglecting them are potentially catastrophic,” the High Commissioner said.

Governments must work quickly to reduce the number of people in detention, she said, noting that several countries have already taken positive actions.

She encouraged authorities to examine ways to release those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 – older detainees and those who are sick, among them – as well as low-risk offenders. They should also continue to provide for the specific health-care requirements of women prisoners, inmates with disabilities and juvenile detainees.

“Now, more than ever, Governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis,” she said, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views. Upon release, people should be medically screened, with measures taken to ensure they receive care and follow-up, if needed.

Human rights, detention and an unfolding pandemic

She recalled that under international human rights law, States have an obligation to work to prevent foreseeable threats to public health and ensure that all who need vital medical care can receive it. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’), meanwhile, set out measures to protect those in detention.

She likewise cautioned that any restrictions on visits to closed institutions should be introduced in a transparent way and communicated clearly, notably through expanded videoconferencing, allowing more phone calls with family members and permitting email.

And while it is vital to enforce physical distancing, she expressed deep concern that some countries are threatening to impose prison sentences for those who fail to obey – an action that is likely to exacerbate the grave situation in prisons and do little to halt the disease’s spread.

“Imprisonment should be a measure of last resort,” she said.

The UN Human Rights Office and the World Health Organization (WHO) are due this week to issue an interim guidance paper – COVID 19: Focus on persons deprived of their liberty – which will contain key messages and actions for UN agencies, governments and relevant authorities, national human rights institutions, and civil society.


Moving forward requires confronting slavery’s ‘racist legacy’: UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2020, Culture and Education - In his message for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, observed on Wednesday, the UN Secretary-General called for the dismantling of racist structures and institutions so that the world can move forward.

“Racism is the reason why outside Africa, people of African descent are often among the last in line for health care, education, justice and opportunities of all kinds”, he said.

“We need to raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behaviour. We urgently need to dismantle racist structures and reform racist institutions. We can only move forward by confronting the racist legacy of slavery together”.

The transatlantic slave trade is one of the biggest crimes in the history of humankind.

And we continue to live in its shadow.

We can only move forward by confronting the racist legacy of slavery together.

Stolen futures

The international day pays tribute to the millions of Africans forcibly removed from their homelands over a 400-year period, starting in 1501.

This year’s theme focuses on racism, which Mr. Guterres said continues to play “a strong role” in the world today.

Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly President urged countries to commit to stamp out racism and racial discrimination.

“The transatlantic slave trade seeded deep inequalities within societies. Economies prospered at a great human cost: entire industries were built upon the suffering of fellow human beings”, said the top Nigerian diplomat and academic, Tijanii Muhammad-Bande.

“Slavery ended many lives and stole the future of successive generations. The descendants of those who were enslaved continue to face enduring social and economic inequality, intolerance, prejudice, racism, and discrimination”.

End modern slavery

The General Assembly unites all 193 UN Member States, and Mr. Muhammad-Bande called for countries to recognize the contribution made by people of African descent.

He further called for action to end slavery now in the modern era, whose victims number some 40 million people worldwide, mainly women and children.

“The onus is upon every Member State to eradicate trafficking, forced labour, servitude and slavery. None of us will be truly free whilst these people suffer”, he said.

“We simply cannot be indifferent to injustice. It is incumbent upon each of us to uphold the human rights of everyone, everywhere”.

COVID-19 and compassion

The International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade has been celebrated annually on 25 March since 2007.

A commemorative ceremony, exhibition and other events are normally held at UN Headquarters in New York but were cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande regretted that the ceremony had to be postponed, adding “the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the fact that we have a duty to open our minds to the lived experiences of others”.


‘Concerted efforts’ needed to meet 2030 Global Goals in Asia-Pacific region

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2020, SDGs - Action to reverse the depletion and degradation of the environment across Asia and the Pacific is a top priority if the region is to stay on course to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a new United Nations report launched online, for the first time, on Tuesday.

In the Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2020, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) draws attention to the region’s poor performance on most of the measurable environmental targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to determine where additional effort is needed and where momentum for future progress is building.

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“Our analysis finds that the Asia-Pacific region has struggled the most with two Goals: advancing responsible consumption and production, and climate action”, observed UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana.

The flagship report sounded the alarm for the Asia-Pacific region to “urgently” foster sustainable resource usages, improve waste management, increase natural disaster resilience and enact policies to adapt to climate change impacts.

For example, the report reveals that the region emits half of the world’s total greenhouse gases which add to carbon emissions – a number which has doubled since 2000. Around 35 per cent of countries there continue to lose areas of forest, and the share of renewable energy has dropped to 16 per cent, one of the lowest rates globally.

A ray of light

On a positive note, many countries are showing remarkable progress on SDG 4 by improving the quality of education, as well as on SDG 7 - providing access to affordable and clean energy – making these two Goals well within reach.

And according to the report, the region is also making good progress on economic targets, although the data for report pre-dates the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused a global economic slowdown.

It points out that in 2017, the real gross domestic product per capita growth in the region was more than double the world average, while at least 18 countries in the region were experiencing less income inequality.

Yet, to grow more sustainably and equitably, the current economic progress of the region must be aligned with human well-being and a healthy environment. 

The report reveals that progress has been far too slow in areas such as SDG 5, gender equality, and SDG 11, building sustainable cities and communities. 

Moreover, ESCAP warned that without concerted and extra efforts from all concerned, the region remains unlikely to meet any of the 17 SDGs by 2030.
“The region is not even moving in the right direction”, underscored Ms. Alisjahbana. 

The region is not even moving in the right direction  -- ESCAP chief

Asia-Pacific subregions

Progress has also been uneven across the five subregions of Central, East, South, Southeast and Western Asia.

Singled out as areas where progress has been mixed, were SDG 10 to reduce inequalities; SDG 12 for responsible consumption and production; and SDG 16, which highlights the need for peace, justice and strong institutions.
However, steady improvement in electricity was a positive example of collective progress across the five subregions, particularly in rural areas. 

Gathering data 

While SDG data for each indicator has substantially increased in Asia and the Pacific -– from 25 per cent in 2017 to 42 per cent in 2020 -– it is still lacking in relation to half of the Global Goals indicators, especially those with slow progress. ESCAP flags that this highlights the urgent need to strengthen the policy-data nexus in the region. 


G-20 summit provides chance to rally strongly against coronavirus threat: UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2020, Health - The COVID-19 crisis presents an "extraordinary opportunity" for the world’s leading economic forum to respond to the numerous threats the disease poses to people everywhere, the UN Secretary-General has said.

In a letter to the members of the Group of 20 industralized powers (G-20), António Guterres welcomed their decision to convene an emergency virtual summit on the pandemic, which has already affected health, education and economies worldwide.

"COVID-19 will require a response like none before -- a ‘war-time’ plan in times of human crisis", he wrote on Monday.

"The G-20 leadership has an extraordinary opportunity to step forward with a strong response package to address the various threats of COVID-19. This would demonstrate solidarity with the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable".

Suppress the virus

Mr. Guterres recommended three areas for discussion and decision-making at the meeting, due to be held on Thursday.

Topping his list is the need for coordinated action to suppress the virus through "an articulated response mechanism" guided by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Such a mechanism would strengthen the global response and provide countries with stronger capabilities to stop transmission: test, trace, quarantine, treat the sick and coordinate measures to restrict movement and contact. It would also help enhance scientific collaboration in the search for a vaccine and therapeutic treatment", he said.

Additionally, he called for increased procurement of medical and protective equipment, particularly for developing countries, and offered up the UN’s global supply network for this purpose.

G-20 leaders were also asked to ban tariffs and remove restrictions on cross-border trade that affects the deployment of medical equipment, medicines and other essential goods.

"And I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion", the Secretary-General added.

Stimulus package for developing countries

For his second point, Mr. Guterres previewed the social and economic impact of the pandemic, which is likely to be in the trillions of dollars. He urged the G-20 to launch a large-scale stimulus package for developing countries.

"Unlike 2008, this is not a banking crisis", he said. "While the liquidity of the financial system must be guaranteed, we need to focus on people — families, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises and the informal sector. Important steps have already been taken by developed countries in this direction. This must be scaled up".

Furthermore, developing economies also will require a support package that could include trade credits, liquidity lines and help in accessing concessional financing.

‘Recover better’ through sustainable development

Looking further ahead, the UN chief underlined the need to "recover better" through more inclusive and sustainable development models. The pandemic has served as a "stark reminder" of humanity’s common fate and the need to invest in critical public services and social protection systems.

He reminded G-20 leaders of the agreed global framework for action through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

"We must ensure that the recovery strategy out of this crisis keeps us on track towards these longer-term objectives, building a sustainable and inclusive economy", he said.

Mr. Guterres also urged G-20 nations to "contribute generously" to the COVID-19 humanitarian appeal he will launch on Wednesday, mainly focused on 40 countries where health systems are most vulnerable.


COVID-19: Lockdown across India, in line with WHO guidance

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2020, Health - India’s decision to impose a 21-day lockdown, which was announced on Tuesday, comes after a call from the UN health agency, WHO, for the country to take “aggressive action”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s order for the country’s 1.3 billion people to stay home, is an escalation of the 07:00 – 21:00 “Janata curfew” introduced on March 22, and it comes a day after the government grounded all domestic flights. Mr. Modi reportedly declared that the lockdown applies to “every district, every lane, every village”, and warned that “If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years”.

The future of this pandemic will be determined by what happens to densely-populated countries Mike Ryan, Emergencies Programme Director, WHO

As of Tuesday, WHO figures showed that India is so far relatively unscathed by the pandemic, with fewer than 500 confirmed cases, but there are fears that, if the disease takes a hold, the consequences could be more catastrophic than anything seen so far in China, Europe or the USA.

Speaking at press briefing in Geneva on Monday, Mike Ryan, WHO Emergencies Programme Director, said that it was important for India to introduce ramped up measures at a public health and societal level, to control and suppress the disease. “India is a hugely populous country”, he said. “The future of this pandemic will be determined by what happens to densely-populated countries”.

India is on a 21 day lockdown to try and prevent the pandemic from taking hold.

The @UN health agency @WHO urged the Gov to take "aggressive action".

On Sunday the country prepared with a national curfew - our @UN_News_Centre video captures some key scenes.

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A ‘timely, comprehensive and robust response’

Dr. Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India, praised the country’s response to the pandemic, describing it as “timely, comprehensive and robust”, with the authorities taking the “whole-of-government” approach advocated by WHO, and Prime Minister Modi personally spearheading efforts. 

The government, he continued, is making headway in areas such as prevention and containment, including “strengthening surveillance, laboratory capacity, contact tracing and isolation, risk communications and initiating emergency measures”.

Dr. Bekedam noted that Mr. Modi’s call for social distancing has received widespread community support across the country, a step that is expected to help in “flattening the curve" (slowing the rate of infection).

WHO and other UN partners, noted Dr. Bekedam, have been working closely with the Indian government on preparedness and response measures, disease surveillance, laboratory and research protocols, risk communications, training on infection prevention and control and cluster containment plan, surveillance and tracking of travellers.


Amidst pandemic, now is the time for action to also beat tuberculosis, urges WHO

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2020, Health - As countries across the world grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Health agency reminded everyone on Tuesday, World Tuberculosis Day 2020, that TB remains the world’s most deadly infectious disease.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a quarter of the global population is estimated to be infected with TB bacteria. And even if there are no signs of sickness, those infected with TB already are at greater risk of developing the disease, especially those with weakened immune systems. 

Affordable and quick diagnosis is the first step towards timely TB care. It’s time for universal access to rapid molecular diagnostic tests.

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Nurses and healthcare workers play a critical role in TB prevention and care. It’s time to invest in them – to improve healthcare for all.

It's time to !

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In 2018, 10 million people worldwide fell ill with TB – 1.5 million fatally.

COVID-19 is highlighting just how vulnerable people with lung diseases and weakened immune systems can be”, stressed Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The world committed to end TB by 2030 [and] improving prevention is key to making this happen”. 

New WHO guidance aims to help countries accelerate efforts to stop those infected with TB from becoming sick by giving them preventive treatment, which will also cut down on the risk of transmission.

The WHO chief highlighted the importance of continuing efforts to tackle longstanding health problems, including TB, during global outbreaks such as COVID-19. 

Preventive treatment 

Although some progress has been made towards targets set at the UN high-level meeting on TB in 2018, TB preventive treatment has been largely inadequate. 

“Millions of people need to be able to take TB preventive treatment to stop the onset of disease, avert suffering and save lives", asserted the WHO chief.
And while global leaders committed to ensuring access to preventive treatment to at least 24 million contacts of people with active TB, and six million living with HIV, by 2022, to date only a fraction of that target has been reached, with countries providing for less than 430,000 contacts and 1.8 million people with TB.

TB preventive treatment is an affordable intervention that can prevent families from sliding into poverty and preserve the health and economy of whole communities. WHO anticipates that as new and safer drugs come to market, and as prices fall, it will become a highly-cost effective way to save millions.

New consolidated guidelines 

New WHO guidance is designed to help countries accelerate efforts to stop people with TB infections from becoming sick, including by ramping up preventive treatments among high-risk populations, such as those living with HIV and others with lowered immunity.

Tuberculosis remains the top cause of death among people with HIV. And because preventive treatment works with antiretroviral therapy to thwart TB, WHO underscored that reinvigorated efforts by governments, health services, partners, and donors is needed to increase access to TB preventive treatment.

While emphasizing that it does not become a barrier to scaled-up access, the UN agency also recommended testing for TB to determine who would most likely benefit from preventive treatment. 

“As people around the globe come together to commemorate World TB Day, WHO is calling on governments, affected communities, civil society organizations, health-care providers, donors, partners and the industry to unite forces and step up the TB response – notably for TB preventive treatment – to ensure no one is left behind”, said Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global TB Programme. 

Affirming that the WHO’s new guidance “shows the way forward for millions to rapidly access new tools and shorter, safer options for preventive treatment”, Dr Kasaeva concluded by spelling out: “The time for action is now”.

Commemorating the day

World TB Day is observed annually on 24 March 24 to raise public awareness and understanding about the devastating health, social and economic impact it has on people globally. 
The date marks the day in 1882 when Dr. Robert Koch announced that he had discovered the bacterium that causes TB, which opened the way towards diagnosing and curing this disease. 
This year’s theme “It’s Time”, spotlights the need to urgently accelerate the TB response to save lives and end suffering.


Ease sanctions against countries fighting COVID-19: UN human rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2020, Human Rights - As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday called for an easing of sanctions against countries such as Iran to allow their medical systems to fight the disease and limit its global spread. 

Michelle Bachelet said humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be authorized for essential medical equipment and supplies to avoid the collapse of any national healthcare system. 

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“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us”, she stated. 

COVID-19 has affected nearly 190 countries, with more than 330,000 cases reported globally as of Monday, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). 

At least 1,800 people in Iran have died from the disease, including 50 doctors.  Human rights reports on the country have repeatedly highlighted the impact of sanctions on access to essential medicines and equipment, such as respirators and protective equipment for healthcare workers. 

Ms. Bachelet feared sanctions could also impact medical efforts in Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Venezuela and Zimbabwe. 

“The majority of these states have frail or weak health systems. Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems – but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities”, she said. 

“The populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions, and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods”. 

The UN rights chief underscored the need to protect health workers in these countries, who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, while authorities should not punish professionals who point out any deficiencies in response. 

Ms. Bachelet urged world leaders to come together at this time as no country can combat the pandemic alone. 

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