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Countries urged to act against COVID-19 ‘infodemic’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2020, Health - The UN and partners have urged countries to take urgent action to address what they have described as the “infodemic” that has surfaced in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the real world and online. 

The pandemic is the first in history in which technology and social media are being used to both inform people and keep them connected, but also to undermine global response to the crisis and jeopardize measures to contain the disease, they explained. 

“Misinformation costs lives. Without the appropriate trust and correct information, diagnostic tests go unused, immunization campaigns (or campaigns to promote effective vaccines) will not meet their targets, and the virus will continue to thrive”, the partners said in a statement issued on Wednesday. 

“We call on Member States to develop and implement action plans to manage the infodemic by promoting the timely dissemination of accurate information, based on science and evidence, to all communities, and in particular high-risk groups; and preventing the spread, and combating, mis- and disinformation while respecting freedom of expression.” 

Authorities also were urged to empower communities to develop solutions and resilience against the infodemic. 

Stakeholders such as the media and social media platforms were called on to collaborate with the UN system, and each other, “to further strengthen their actions to disseminate accurate information and prevent the spread of mis- and disinformation.” 

Communications emergency 

The statement signed by the United Nations, eight of its entities, and the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), followed a virtual meeting organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. 

In a video message for the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres  underlined how the COVID-19 pandemic is also a communications emergency. 

“As soon as the virus spread across the globe, inaccurate and even dangerous messages proliferated wildly over social media, leaving people confused, misled and ill-advised”, he recalled. 

 “The antidote lies in making sure that science-backed facts and health guidance circulate even faster, and reach people wherever they access information.” 

Science, solutions, solidarity 

Throughout the pandemic, the UN chief has highlighted the need to fight the tide of harmful health advice, hate speech and wild conspiracy theories that has surfaced alongside COVID-19. 

In May, the UN launched the Verified initiative, encouraging people everywhere to serve as “digital first responders”, who share trusted, accurate information on their social media platforms. 

“Working with media partners, individuals, influencers and social media platforms, the content we spread promotes science, offers solutions and inspires solidarity,” he said. 

As Mr. Guterres told the meeting, fighting misinformation will be critical as the UN and partners work to build public confidence in the safety and efficacy of any COVID-19 vaccines being developed. 

Catching up on routine vaccinations 

That message was echoed later on Wednesday at another WHO virtual meeting to galvanize governments and humanitarians to safeguard immunization campaigns during the pandemic, and to ensure infrastructure is in place for the future equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  

Although the UN estimates some 80 million children worldwide have not received routine immunizations due to the pandemic, services are resuming with the goal of “catching up to build better”, according to Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. 

She said partners are also working “closer than ever”, and with greater integration;  principles that will be applicable for the future delivery of any COVID-19 vaccines. 

“Our goal is to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19 for all countries, harnessing the partnerships to work together to bring safe and effective and affordable vaccines…and do it because nobody is safe until everybody is safe”, said Ms. O’Brien. 

A ‘global insurance policy’ 

WHO along with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) spearhead a global initiative that has pledged to put COVID-19 vaccines in the hands of anyone, anywhere who needs them. 

GAVI chief Dr. Seth Berkley described the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility as a “global insurance policy”, committed to ensuring no one is left behind.  The goal is to produce two billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. 

Dr. Berkley reported that more than 160 countries either have committed to the Facility, or are eligible to receive vaccines, with others expected to join this week. 

“Gavi right now helps vaccinate half the world’s children. But the global delivery of COVID vaccines will be the single largest and most rapid deployment the world has ever seen”, he said. 

“Also, with the levels of rumours and false information, we will need to work with communities everywhere to provide accurate information.” 

The COVAX Facility is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator which aims to speed up the development and production of tests, medicines and vaccines that will be available to all countries.  

The ACT Accelerator was launched in April and has so far received around $2.7 billion.  The UN Secretary-General recently appealed for a “quantum leap in funding” to meet the $35 billion still needed.   

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Put ‘people before politics’ in Lebanon, urges Guterres, following Beirut disaster

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2020, Humanitarian Aid - It’s time that leaders across Lebanon put “people before politics” following last month’s explosions in Beirut port, said the UN chief on Wednesday, which must serve as a wake-up call following a year of upheaval and clamour for reform on all fronts.

António Guterres was speaking at a high level meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon, meeting to reaffirm its support for the country, which he described as now facing “a perfect storm: a protracted financial and socioeconomic crisis with an unprecedented rise in unemployment and poverty, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

‘Wake-up call’

The Secretary-General said the fatal explosions of August 4 that devastated much of the capital, killing at least 200 and wounding thousands, must serve as a wake-up call.

“Eleven months after so many took to the streets calling for change, we hope for tangible steps to implement economic, social and political reforms”, he said, calling the designation of a new Prime Minister, Mustapha Adib, “a step in the right direction.”

Without the rapid formation of a government able to meet the needs and aspirations of all Lebanese and deliver on reform, Mr. Guterres said the ability to recover and rebuild would be jeopardized.  

“Now is the time for transformation in a variety of sectors — including financial, banking and energy — as well as customs, public procurement and State-owned enterprises. Social reforms, including social protection, are also needed to ensure the well-being of all Lebanese, particularly the most vulnerable.”

UN led humanitarian effort 

 Since the explosions, the UN has led an urgent humanitarian response while looking at long-term measures to return the country to a path of stability and development, he said, adopting a three-pronged approach based on relief, early recovery, and then reform and reconstruction.

The UN chief said scaling up help from the international community was central: “Close coordination is also critical with the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Lebanon along with governments, donors, and humanitarian and development actors and the Lebanese Armed Forces in light of their leading role in distributing relief efforts.”

Adding that now was the time “to prioritize national interest and put people before politics”, he said that with more international support and “the commitment of the Lebanese government”, everyone could play their part in safeguarding the country’s future.

Joint communique

Following the meeting, the members of the International Support Group (ISG) urged Lebanon's leaders to unite behind a new government, in order to "meet the legitimate aspirations expressed by the Lebanese people, and committed to addressing Lebanon’s multiple and acute challenges, notably its humanitarian, socio-economic and financial crises, the COVID-19 pandemic, the reconstruction of Beirut and the restoration of Beirut's heritage and historical buildings."

The ISG called on leaders to undertake reforms and welcomed agreement earlier in September on a comprehensive roadmap of reforms, with a timeline for implementation. 

They also reiterated the need for those reforms "to address the challenges of Lebanon and respond to the aspirations peacefully expressed by the Lebanese people."

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Impact on workers of COVID-19 is ‘catastrophic’: ILO

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2020, Economic Development - COVID-19 has had a “catastrophic” impact on workers, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday, with lost working hours higher than originally forecast, and equivalent to 495 million full-time jobs globally in the second quarter of the year. 

The bleak news from ILO Director-General Guy Ryder coincided with an updated mid-year forecast from the UN body. 

Lower and middle-income countries have suffered most, with an estimated 23.3 per cent drop in working hours – equivalent to 240 million jobs - in the second quarter. 

Previously, the ILO had suggested a 14 per cent average drop in global working time, equivalent to the loss of 400 million jobs, relative to the fourth quarter of 2019. 

Incomes cut by 15 per cent 

Workers in developing nations had also seen their income drop more than 15 per cent, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder told journalists in Geneva. 

“On top of this, these are the places where there are the weakest social protection systems, so there are very few resources or protections for working people to fall back upon”, he said. “If you look at it regionally, the Americas were worst-affected, with losses of 12.1 per cent.” 

Mr. Ryder highlighted that while the Governments of richer countries had shored up their economies with hundreds of billions of dollars, poorer nations had been unable to do the same. 

Without such fiscal stimulus, working hours losses would have been 28 per cent between April and June, instead of 17.3 per cent, he insisted. 

Poles apart on financial aid 

Nonetheless, State financial support has led to the emergence of an extremely worrying “fiscal stimulus gap” between wealthy economies and the developing world, amounting to $982 billion, Mr. Ryder warned. 

“It runs a risk of leading us to post-COVID world with greater inequalities between regions, countries, sectors and social groups,” he said. “It’s a polar opposite to the better world that we want to build back, and it reminds us all, that unless we are all able to overcome and get out of this pandemic, none of us will.” 

Although the $982 billion global stimulus package was a staggering sum, the ILO Director-General noted that low-income countries needed a fraction of this figure - $45 billion – to support workers in the same way as wealthier nations had done, while lower-middle-income countries required the remaining $937 billion. 

Other data from the ILO Monitor indicates that for the third fiscal quarter covering July to September, 12.1 per cent of global working time will be lost, which is equivalent to 345 million full-time jobs.  

Final quarter challenges 

The final quarter of the year envisages a significant worsening of the situation for workers since the UN agency’s last assessment in June, with a minimum 8.6 per cent drop in global working time – up from up from 4.9 per cent mid-year – corresponding to 245 million full-time jobs. 

To protect workers and economies everywhere, Mr. Ryder warned against any premature loosening of support for health measures aimed at combating the pandemic, in view of increasing infection rates in many countries. 

Support for jobs and incomes should be sustained into next year, he insisted, while also calling for finding ways to increase technical help and official develop assistance to emerging economies. 

It was also important to prioritise income support for the hardest-hit groups, namely women, young people and informal workers, he added.

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UN stands ready to support landlocked nations in pandemic recovery

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2020, Economic Development - The UN system is standing in solidarity with landlocked developing countries, which lack access to vital trade links, and supporting them in their efforts to rebuild once the global coronavirus pandemic abates, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday. 

Addressing a virtual meeting of foreign ministers from this group of countries, Mr. Guterres said that on top of challenges which include severe disruptions to trade, transport and distributions, the risk of debt distress looms. 

“With the impact of COVID-19, global debt has soared to unprecedented heights. In some of the most vulnerable countries, more than a quarter of public revenue is being used to service public debt, severely limiting fiscal space”, he said. 

The complex challenges not only threaten economic growth and livelihoods, they are also impacting nations’ ability to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on Climate Change, he added. 

Partnering for solutions 

Against this background, the Secretary-General said that the UN “is here to partner with you on solutions.” 

These include low-emission, safe means of transport and infrastructure; mobilizing private and public funding; moving away from dependence on economically volatile fossil fuels to renewable energy systems; and combatting illicit financial flows. 

“We need to ensure that resources and debt relief reach all countries that need it, in order to create space for investments in recovery and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said the Secretary-General. 

Alongside, trade potential of landlocked developing countries should be increased, and cooperation between landlocked developing and transit countries strengthened, added Mr. Guterres. 

“Next Tuesday’s meeting of Leaders on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and beyond, can help galvanize ambition and action in these areas”, he said. 

Mr. Guterres also called on the landlocked developing countries to implement six key principles for a climate positive recovery: investing in green jobs and sectors; not bailing out polluting industries; ending fossil fuel subsidies; accounting for climate risks and opportunities in all policy and financial decisions; working together; and leaving no one behind.  

“The UN system will continue to support you in your efforts to realize sustainable, inclusive development for your people as you respond and ultimately recover from the COVID-19 crisis.” 

Re-energize collective efforts for SDGs 

In a separate message, Vulcan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly, also called on the ministers to re-energize collective efforts to achieve the SDGs through the Decade of Action

“The SDGs have the potential to serve as a blueprint for resilient recovery from COVID-19,” he said. 

The Assembly President also called on the international community to “consider and account for the contextual circumstances” of the landlocked countries, urging measures to facilitate their participation in the global, sustainable recovery. 

“Each country has its own path to sustainable development, guided by the Goals. But each country’s conditions and context differ. We cannot copy and paste the solution; we must work together with flexibility and adaptability to achieve success.” 

The Vienna Programme of Action 

In the shadow of the COVID pandemic, the high-level virtual meeting on the side-lines of the General Assembly’s high-level, was convened to review progress in implement the Vienna Programme of Action for the landlocked developing countries for the decade 2014-2025 – the landmark development framework to tackle the special circumstances of the landlocked countries and facilitate their integration into the global economy. 

It also provided an opportunity for ministers and senior government officials to share knowledge, experiences, and suggest recommendations and opportunities for accelerating the implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda.

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Mali: Rights expert calls for ‘immediate release’ of former officials detained during coup

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2020, Human Rights - An independent UN human rights expert has called on Mali’s coup leaders to release former government officials, who have been detained for more than a month. 

According to a news release by the UN human rights office (OHCHR), at least 13 people, among the 18 arrested by coup leaders on 18 August, are still being held illegally, at the Kati military camp in Bamako, in spite of calls for their release from global and regional leaders, including UN Secretary-General António Guterres and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. 

“There is no legal basis for detention of the former prime minister, the former president of the National Assembly, and other former Malian officials taken into custody in the coup d'état,” Alioune Tine, UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, said in the news release, on Wednesday. 

“I call on the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) to comply with Mali’s international human rights obligations … everyone arrested during the coup must be released immediately and unconditionally.” 

The independent expert added that the detention contravenes international and regional human rights instruments to which Mali is a party. 

Under international law, no one should be deprived of liberty except in accordance with the law. Anyone arrested must be informed at the time of arrest of the reasons for their arrest and promptly informed of any charges against them, added the news release. 

“I urge the CNSP to scrupulously respect their rights, including the right to communicate with their families and lawyers and to receive visits, in particular from family members,” Mr. Tine said.  

“But above all, I urge the CNSP to release them immediately.” 

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

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South African President warns pandemic has set back African development

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2020, UN Affairs - Despite the continent-wide approach taken by African countries to combat COVID-19, the pandemic has set back their development aspirations, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told world leaders at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Speaking via video-link, Mr. Ramaphosa noted that, with resources redirected to fighting the virus, efforts to provide housing, health care, water and sanitation, and education have been hampered, and called for interest payments on African countries’ debt to be suspended.

Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals

“Until we eradicate global poverty, we will always fall short of realizing the vision of the founders of the United Nations”, Mr. Ramaphosa told world leaders, reminding them of the importance of meeting all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The South African President emphasized gender equality, including the expansion of opportunities for women, and ensuring their rights in the workplace, political life, and in society as a whole.

South Africa, he noted, is a member of the UN’s Generation Equality, prioritizing the eradication of gender-based violence and femicide, and is working to adopt an African Union Convention on violence against women. African Union member states, he continued, are also working on measures to support financial inclusion for women.

‘Silence the guns’

Turning to peace and security matters, Mr. Ramaphosa declared that South Africa is continuing with efforts to “silence the guns”, through conflict resolution and peace-building.

Increased cooperation between the UN and African Union has, he said, contributed to improving peace and security in the Darfur region of Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic.

And, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, South Africa has, continued Mr. Ramaphosa, promoted international peace and security by advocating for the peaceful settlement of disputes and inclusive dialogue.

‘Advance green economies’

Looking ahead to the post-pandemic recovery, Mr. Ramaphosa noted that it presents an opportunity to “place the global economy on a low-carbon, climate resilient developmental path”.

The principles of green, and circular, economies must be advanced, he declared, for the sake of the environment, as well as for job creation and economic growth.

The South African premier added that climate change adaptation, mitigation and support must be at the heart of the global recovery effort.

A choice between tolerance and prejudice

For Mr. Ramaphosa, one of the upshots of the pandemic is that is has presented the world with a choice, and an opportunity to create a new order, rooted in “solidarity, equality and unity of purpose.”

“When history faithfully records the global response to the worst health emergency of this century”, concluded Mr. Ramaphosa, “let it be said that we stood and acted as one, that we provided leadership, and that we gave the peoples of all nations hope and courage”.

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Myanmar: Mounting child death toll during Rakhine village assaults must end, urges rights expert

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2020, Human Rights - The assaults by security forces in Myanmar on villages in Rakhine state “need to stop”, and a ceasefire should be declared immediately, said the UN independent rights expert on the situation across the country on Tuesday.

Thomas Andrews decried the mounting toll of child casualties: “Serious questions have been raised about whether these children, and growing numbers of others, are being caught in the crossfire of war, or are being deliberately targeted,” he said.

“Two five-year-old children were killed and another was wounded by artillery fire in Myebon Township two weeks ago today.”

Comply with UN courts

“Impunity and human rights cannot coexist,” he added, citing the videotaped confessions of two army defectors, to massacres, rape and other crimes against Rohingya committed in August 2017, which led to an exodus of the mostly-Muslim minority across the border into Bangladesh.

Mr. Andrews urged the Government of Myanmar to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar. He also referenced the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that is assessing Myanmar’s compliance with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Asides from the alleged rights abuses, the Special Rapporteur also noted the tremendous challenge Myanmar faces during what is an election campaign, in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for more international support.

Restricting freedom of expression

HE also raised concern that the government was imposing “vague and subjective criteria” to restrict the right to freedom of expression for political candidates.

“This is not only an infringement of fundamental rights, it is also dangerous,” said Andrews, noting that news sites serving ethnic minority areas have also been ordered shut. “Information can be critical to saving lives in a pandemic and information is the heartbeat of a free and fair election.”

He also raised concerns about limitations on the right to vote in Myanmar’s upcoming elections on 8 November 2020. “The results of an election cannot accurately reflect the will of the people when the right to vote is denied because of race, ethnicity or religion,” he said.

No enfranchisement for Rohingya

“I have seen no evidence that the government is willing or prepared to facilitate the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of voting-age Rohingya, located in Rakhine State or in refugee camps in Bangladesh.”

The independent expert, a former US Congressman and Washington-based consultant, who took up his post earlier this year, presented satellite photographs of a Rohingya village – Khan Da Para, also known as Kan Kya — before and after it was attacked and destroyed in military-led “clearance operations” in August 2017, including the presence of a military installation where homes and villages once stood. 

Noting Myanmar’s statement to the Human Rights Council last week that “commencement of repatriation is our priority”, Andrews asked: “But what does repatriation mean for those who once lived in Kan Kya? How can they be integrated into their place of origin when it has become a military base?

“Where is justice for those stranded in refugee camps in Bangladesh while facilities are constructed on their homeland for the same military that stands accused at the International Court of Justice for committing genocide against them?”

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and work on voluntary basis, without renumeration.

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Sign of the times: COVID-19 response and recovery must be accessible says Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2020, Human Rights - This year’s International Day of Sign Languages is being commemorated in the midst of a pandemic that has “disrupted and upended lives everywhere”, including those of the deaf community, the UN chief said on Wednesday.

In his message for the day, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed encouragement that some countries have been providing public health announcements and information on COVID-19 with national sign language interpretation. 

And he repeated his call for COVID-19 response and recovery measures to be “accessible to all”. 

Disability plan

The UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, which was launched last year, aims to strengthen efforts for the meaningful participation and full inclusion of people with disabilities “in all that we do, including in times of crisis”, the top UN official explained.

He elaborated by calling it “the only way” to fulfil the central promise of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind. 

“On this International Day of Sign Languages, I call on all local, national and global leaders to protect and promote the diversity of sign languages and cultures, so that every Deaf person can participate in and contribute to society and reach their full potential”, upheld the Secretary-General. 

I call on all local, national and global leaders to protect and promote the diversity of sign languages and cultures -- UN chief

300 different sign languages 

According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million worldwide – more than 80 per cent of whom live in developing countries – and collectively, they use more than 300 different sign languages.

The UN maintains that International Day of Sign Languages offers a unique opportunity to support and protect the linguistic identity and cultural diversity of deaf people and other sign language users. 

Sign languages are full-fledged natural languages, the UN points out, structurally distinct from spoken languages.

There is also an international sign language, which is used by deaf people in international meetings and informally when travelling and socializing, which is considered a “pidgin form of sign language” because it is not as complex and has a limited lexicon.

Global challenge awaits

Later this year the World Federation of the Deaf will issue a Global Leaders Challenge to promote the use of sign languages by local, national and global leaders in partnership with national associations of deaf people and deaf-led organizations in each country. 

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Violence leaves more than 300,000 ‘completely reliant’ on assistance in northern Mozambique

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2020, Humanitarian Aid - Worsening conflict, combined with a precarious humanitarian situation, has forced more than 300,000 people to flee their homes and villages in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, leaving them completely reliant on humanitarian assistance, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has said. 

“We are deeply concerned about the unfolding humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado where conflict and violence have left people without access to food and livelihoods,” Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Representative for Mozambique, said in news release, on Tuesday. 

“The growing insecurity and poor infrastructure have meant that reaching out to people in need has become harder and now with COVID-19 the crisis becomes even more complex,” added the WFP official. 

Latest findings from the famine early warning system, FEWSNET, indicate that communities will continue to face “crisis” levels of food insecurity – IPC Phase 3 – into early 2021.  

Any additional shocks could rapidly worsen the situation, especially for women and children, according to the UN agency. 

The situation is even more worrisome given that Cabo Delgado has the second highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the country, with more than half of children under the age of five chronically malnourished. In addition, with the province currently recording the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Mozambique, population displacements have the potential to accelerate the spread of coronavirus

Resources urgently needed 

WFP said it urgently needs $4.7 million per month to assist the internally displaced in northern Mozambique, and that without additional funding it will be forced to reduce food rations as early as December. 

Despite significant operational challenges, the UN agency, in collaboration with the Government, plans to reach 310,000 people each month in the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, and Niassa with food, vouchers and nutrition support. 

Since 2017, Cabo Delgado had been experiencing attacks by non-State armed groups, leading to gradual displacement of communities. The attacks also resulted in loss of lives and severely damaged infrastructure, causing disruptions in the access to those most in need. 

With the latest violence forcing thousands of refugees across the border, into neighbouring Tanzania, concerns over the regionalization of the conflict are deepening, added WFP. 

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Global solution to COVID-19 in sight, ‘we sink or we swim together’ – WHO chief

INTERNATIONAL, 21 September 2020, Health - COVID-19 is an “unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response”, the chief of the UN health agency said on Monday, unveiling a plan to have two billion doses of coronavirus vaccine available by the end of 2021. 

Roughly 64 per cent of the global population lives in a nation that has either committed to, or is eligible to join, the coronavirus Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, which enables participating Governments to spread the risk and costs of vaccine development and provide their populations with early access to vaccines. 

Working together through the COVAX Facility “is not charity, it’s in every country’s best interest. We sink or we swim together”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

‘Vaccine nationalism’ will prolong pandemic

Speaking at a press briefing with the international vaccine alliance GAVI, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the WHO chief said that commitment agreements have been secured and the COVAX Facility would begin signing contracts with vaccine manufacturers and developers.

The overarching goal of the COVAX Facility is to ensure that all countries have access to vaccines at the same time, and that priority is given to those most at risk, according to the WHO chief.

“The COVAX Facility will help to bring the pandemic under control, “save lives, accelerate the economic recovery and ensure that the race for vaccines is a shared endeavour, not a contest that only the rich can win”, he upheld. “Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery”.

More commitment needed

So far, $3 billion have been invested in the ACT Accelerator – only a tenth of the required $35 for scale-up and impact.

Tedros stressed that $5 billion is needed “immediately to maintain momentum and stay on track for our ambitious timelines”.

“Our challenge now is to take the tremendous promise of the ACT Accelerator and COVAX to scale”, he said, adding, “we are at a critical point and we need a significant increase in countries’ political and financial commitment”.  

The WHO chief cited estimates suggesting that once an effective vaccine has been distributed, and international travel and trade is fully restored, “the economic gains will far outweigh” the $38 billion investment required for the Accelerator.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do”, he spelled out.

COVAX realized

 “COVAX is now in business”, said Gavi CEO Seth Berkley. “Governments from every continent have chosen to work together, not only to secure vaccines for their own populations, but also to help ensure that vaccines are available to the most vulnerable everywhere”. 

“With the commitments we’re announcing today for the COVAX Facility, as well as the historic partnership we are forging with industry, we now stand a far better chance of ending the acute phase of this pandemic, once safe, effective vaccines become available”.

‘Great leap’ forward

Meanwhile, CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett called the international community’s coming together to tackle the pandemic “a landmark moment in the history of public health”. 

“The global spread of COVID-19 means that it is only through equitable and simultaneous access to new lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines that we can hope to end this pandemic,” he said. “Countries coming together in this way shows a unity of purpose and resolve to end the acute phase of this pandemic. Today, we have taken a great leap towards that goal, for the benefit of all”.

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