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Release inmates in Yemen to avert nationwide coronavirus outbreak, experts urge

Despite calls from the UN Secretary-General and others for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, fighting has continued between pro-Government forces and Houthi rebels in recent days.

In a statement, the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, said prisoners and detainees in Yemen are particularly vulnerable – and at high risk of death – if the novel coronavirus emerges in overcrowded prisons and other detention facilities.

Conditions in such places are “appalling,” it said, adding that the health system in Yemen is on the brink of collapse and that prisoners must cope with a lack of adequate food and minimum standards of hygiene that contravene standards set by international law.

 Immediately release all detainees and political prisoners being held in political, security and military detention facilities — UN experts

“The Group of Experts urges all parties to the conflict in Yemen to immediately release all detainees and political prisoners being held in political, security and military detention facilities, official and secret alike, in order to prevent and mitigate the risks of COVID-19 contagion in the whole of Yemen, in line with their obligations under international law,” the panel said.

The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen is chaired by Kamel Jendoubi of Tunisia and also includes Melissa Parke of Australia and Ardi Imseis of Canada.

Global ceasefire call

UN chief António Guterres called last week for a cessation of hostilities in all corners of the world in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – an appeal echoed over the weekend by Pope Francis.

Fighting continues in Yemen, however, with the Saudi-led coalition reportedly carrying out air strikes in Sanaa on Monday, two days after Saudi Arabia said it intercepted two missiles allegedly fired by Houthi militia towards the capital Riyadh and the southern city of Jizan.

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.  Earlier this month, Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, warned the Security Council that a fresh escalation in violence once again threatens the quest for a political resolution.

COVID-19 stoking xenophobia, hate and exclusion, minority rights expert warns

“COVID-19 is not just a health issue; it can also be a virus that exacerbates xenophobia, hate and exclusion,” said Fernand de Varennes, the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, in a statement issued on Monday.

He reported that politicians and groups are exploiting fears surrounding the disease to scapegoat certain communities, leading to a rise in violence against them.

This has included physical attacks against Chinese and other Asians, hate speech blaming Roma and Hispanics for the spread of the virus, and calls by some political leaders for migrants to be denied access to medical services.

Safeguard human rights

Mr. de Varennes said countries need to show that the human rights of all people must be protected, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.

“Combatting the epidemic requires tackling its darker sides. Firm actions by States and all of us to safeguard the human rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised, including minorities, indigenous communities and migrants, are urgent and necessary”, he stressed.

More than 200 countries have reported cases of the new coronavirus disease, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December.

There were 638,146 cases globally as of Sunday, and more than 30,000 deaths, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The coronavirus outbreak endangers the health of all of us, with no distinction as to language, religion or ethnicity. But some are more vulnerable than others”, said Mr. de Varennes.

He urged people everywhere to resist the rise in discriminatory and hate speech against Asian and other minorities by using the hashtag #IAmNotAVirus on social media.

Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

Protect people in prisons, detention centres

Meanwhile, authorities are being urged to consider measures to mitigate COVID-19 risk in places such as prisons, immigration detention facilities, closed refugee camps and psychiatric institutions.

The UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture issued the advice on Monday, in a call to protect people deprived of their liberty during the pandemic.

“Governments have to take precautionary measures necessary to prevent the spread of infection, and to implement emergency measures to ensure detainees have access to appropriate levels of health care and to maintain contact with families and the outside world”, said Sir Malcolm Evans, the Committee Chairperson.

Measures include reducing prison populations by allowing early or temporary release of low-risk offenders, and extending the use of bail for all but the most serious cases.v

Coronavirus necessitates global increase in protective equipment, medical supplies: UN health chief

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in Geneva on Monday that he had spoken to trade ministers from the world’s leading economic forum, the G-20, about ways to address the chronic shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential medical supplies.

“We call on countries to work with companies to increase production; to ensure the free movement of essential health products; and to ensure equitable distribution of those products, based on need”, Tedros said, placing specific emphasis on low and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The UN health agency also is “working intensively” with several partners to massively increase access to diagnostics, PPE, medical oxygen, ventilators and other life-saving products, he added.

Health care: A balancing act

Cases of the new coronavirus disease continue to mount globally, reaching nearly 700,000 on Monday, and more than 33,000 deaths.

The rapidly increasing demands of the pandemic are threatening health systems, Tedros said, because “even though we’re in the midst of a crisis, essential health services must continue”.

WHO has published guidelines to help countries balance the demands of pandemic response while maintaining essential health services which include routine vaccination, pre-natal care, and treating infectious and non-communicable diseases.

Tedros also welcomed the news that 20,000 healthcare workers in the United Kingdom have offered to return to work, while medical students and trainees in Russia are taking part in the emergency response there.

Countries coping with the COVID-19 surge can also consult a new WHO manual on setting up and managing treatment centres, including in repurposed buildings or tents.

“This is a life-saving instruction manual to deal with the surge of cases that some countries are facing right now”, the agency’s chief said.

“These facilities will also have longer-term benefits for health systems once the current crisis is over”.

Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

Pandemic exposes inequalities

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the world’s inequalities and threatening to deepen them, the International Labour Organization (ILO), warned on Monday.

The UN agency finds that migrant workers and people working in the informal economy are particularly affected by the economic consequences of the disease, and women are especially exposed.

Two billion people worldwide work in in informal employment, while ILO also stressed that the policy response by government should ensure that support reaches low-wage workers, the self-employed and other vulnerable people.

An appeal for children in conflict

The UN expert on the plight of children caught in conflict has joined the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic.

Virginia Gamba said COVID-19 is compounding the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people, especially those living in conflict zones.

“As borders are closing down and hostilities continue relentlessly, it is important to stand with those who are counting on us and to amplify our call for the protection of children affected by conflict; only together can we defeat this invisible threat”, she said.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres last Monday called on combatants everywhere to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world”.v

First Person: Hawaii’s ‘silver tsunami’: the challenge of caring for kupuna elders

Diane Paloma is the CEO of Lunalilo Home and the King William Charles Lunalilo Trust which cares for elderly people in Honolulu, the capital of the US state of Hawaii. Some 80 residents and day-care clients are looked after at Lunalilo, which was established in 1883 following a bequest by King William Charles Lunalilo, the first of a long line of Hawaiian kings to be formally elected by the island’s people.

“I’m like the Jackie of all trades and master of none! I oversee the Trust’s investment portfolio and coordinate with the Board in order to move our strategic plan forward; but my primary focus is nurturing and caring for our kupuna, the Hawaiian word for elder. The knowledge and wisdom of kupuna is highly respected in our culture.  

Our founder, King William Charles Lunalilo, recognized his wealth could be utilized for the benefit of others, which was a visionary idea in the 1880s. The reverence for kupuna comes from the philosophy and innate belief that we are a part of this genealogical tie to people in the past. We look to our ancestors for guidance and this gives us a sense of place, and of who we are. They have knowledge and wisdom and so it’s our job to pick up those pearls and utilize them for the betterment of the next generation because in Hawaiian culture, you’re nothing if your lineage doesn’t live on in perpetuity. 

Coolest people

I think that’s the unique aspect of how we approach kupuna care; rather than just taking care of their medication, dietary needs as well as bed and shelter and clothes, we consider how to provide comfort, compassion and dignity. And how do we give them respect and recognize they are the coolest persons in the world based on life experiences? Ultimately, the best way is to share in their stories. Really, the carers here become the residents’ surrogate families.

They may not remember what happened yesterday, but they remember an event 60 years ago to the date and can describe to you the smells and what they felt and heard. I’m learning something new every day. I think we need to document while we can what life was like in Hawaii, because if we don’t this knowledge could be lost. 

You absolutely need to have the heart for working in this industry of senior and elder care, as it’s neither the most lucrative nor the easiest job; it’s extremely fulfilling but also very challenging. Over ninety per cent of our residents have some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. And as the US populations ages we are faced with what I call a silver tsunami, a tidal wave of baby boomers who have grown old. This situation is really going to challenge our society.

This industry relies on people and I would say there has been a shift in our workforce, as it’s been really difficult to find people who want to do this sort of work.  Many would prefer a more lucrative job in a hospital or even in a hotel earning $20-25/hour. Some work here as a stepping-stone to becoming a registered nurse which pays a livable wage in Hawaii and means they can afford to have one job instead of two.

Migrants

Migrants have played a critical role in Hawaii and continue to do so, especially in the health care sector. It’s good to have diversity in the workforce. I’m a product of that migrant workforce; my Japanese ancestors came here four generations ago to work on the sugar cane and then pineapple plantations. 

We don’t want to have only one particular type of caregiver, so we welcome diversity and I personally love the different cultures that they bring to Lunalilo, especially the food! We have workers from Uganda, Tonga and Ecuador as well as the Philippines.

Migrant workers often come with different philosophical values. My challenge is, how can I teach somebody from another country, aloha and that compassion? It takes a little bit longer than if we had somebody who innately understands aloha and caring for kupuna, so employing a migrant can come with risks.

One of the biggest stressors in Hawaii is the high cost of living and there are many families who are living paycheck to paycheck; I would say that 40 to 50 per cent of them are just one or two paychecks away from homelessness. So, how are they supposed to afford care for their kupuna, which is already in limited supply in Hawaii? In this respect, there are some cases of older people being neglected in Hawaii.”

Good Health and Well-Being

  • The aim of creating a healthier global population is the target of SDG 3.
  • The UN believes that “ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development.”
  • Among the targets are reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births from 211 (in 2017) and ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases as well as combating hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.

First Person: Heartbreak and hope – one doctor’s story from China’s coronavirus ground zero

Since the original outbreak of the coronavirus in Hubei, China, at the end of January, 346 medical teams, from 29 Provinces in China, have been sent to Hubei to save lives, aiding local medical teams.

The hospital that Xiang oversees, the Yifu Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University, got notification to go on the mission, on 24 January, just before Chinese New Year, the most important time for people to return home and reunite with family. This is an edited and translated version of the interview conducted by our colleagues from the UN News Chinese team. 

A battalion assembled overnight

Jiangsu Medical Mission at the airport to head to Hubei Province., provided by Lu Xiang

“So many medical staff volunteered to go, that they had to be put on a waiting list. The first batch of medical personnel, six doctors and nurses, was dispatched from our hospital on 25 January.

With over 30 years of experience, I was eager to contribute to the front line, but the severity and massive scale of the epidemic was also intimidating. I eventually got the phone call to go on 10 February, and I was told that I was going to lead a team to the city of Huangshi. In less than 24 hours, I had to assemble a temporary medical team of 310 people from a dozen hospitals, so I was really pressed. 

I didn’t know some of the medical staff, and I’m not familiar with Huangshi, but I knew that my management and clinical experience would be helpful on the front line. All the people on the mission were very willing to participate in this battle. I remember feeling under pressure and stressed, but also full of confidence.

A patient recovering from COVID-19 after efforts by Lu Xiang and his medical team, provided by Lu Xiang

At that time, the epidemic in Huangshi was close to its peak. By the time we arrived, there was close to 800 patients, including around 100 in a critical condition. The medical staff were very tired, and there was a shortage of protective materials.

Clearly, our medical team had arrived at the most difficult time and the most intense period of the battle against the virus. It was really difficult: if the conditions are poor, there is no way to fight the war. 

No time to eat

For the first two weeks, we worked almost around the clock. There was almost no time to eat, let alone to contact our families. We renovated the hospital to increase the number of beds, and concentrated critical patients in one of the best-equipped hospitals. 

I even worked as a temporary carpenter to transform general wards into intensive care wards that met the national standards overnight!

Although there is no medication to cure COVID-19, my experience is that it is important to diagnose and seek to treat patients as early as possible. I have seen some encouraging cases: a 93-year-old patient in critical condition recovered, and another patient was discharged from hospital after two rounds of ventilator intubation.

Doctors don’t fear hardships, but misunderstanding

Since the beginning, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international organizations made objective assessments of China’s fight against the epidemic and made correct decisions. I think this was a sign of solidarity and support.

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Not being misunderstood by others is, I think, the most important thing.  As doctors, we are not afraid of hardship, we ’re not afraid of fatigue. But we hope that people can understand us in the right way, especially in difficult times such as these.

Facing pandemic: Don’t Panic!

Next week, my team will complete its mission and return home. I’m pleased to say that none of our medical team members and local medical staff were infected. 

For the general public, my main message is “don’t panic!”.

When Wuhan saw a big rise in cases, many people were panicked, and flocked to the hospitals, which caused cross-infection. So, stay calm, and stay indoors whenever possible. This is the most important experience that I want to share.”
 

First Person: False promises in Mauritania

Mauritania, where the job market has been tight in recent years, has seen many people fall prey to the patter of so-called hiring agents, who sell false promises of lucrative job opportunities abroad, and charge a hefty price for their services.

Mouna*, a mother in her thirties, fell into this trap. A hiring agency told her that they had secured a secretary position for her at the ministry of foreign affairs, in one of the Gulf nations, with a $400 dollar per month salary.

However, when she arrived, the reality was very different: she was forced to work as a maid and babysitter for a family and, when she fell ill, they abandoned her on the streets to avoid paying her hospital bills, and then claimed that she had run away.

Women and girls disproportionely affected

A former victim of human trafficking, by © Sibylle Desjardins / IOM

Mouna’s story is just one example of the many ways that gender interacts with migration. Recognizing this, the UN migration agency, IOM, has been digging into the available data to understand gender-specific migration trends, enabling organizations to launch projects and initiatives that will be effective in reducing inequality and improving the lives of all migrants.

With a number of partners, IOM formed the Counter Trafficking Data Collective, the first global data hub on human trafficking, which gathers research from organizations around the world. The data shows that women make up almost two-thirds of trafficking victims. It also demonstrates that many of them are recruited by intimate partners, family, relative or friends.

IOM’s research has shown that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the lack of options for safe and legal migration. Reasons include unequal access to rights, resources and information. Some countries, for example, place legal restrictions on women’s right to movement, requiring them to get permission from a spouse or male guardian if they want a passport.

The Missing Migrants Project

And if, given the barriers to safe migration, women decide to take irregular, unsafe, and illegal routes, they are exposed to many risks, often connected to dangerous means of transport, including unsafe travel conditions during sea crossings.

In 2019, IOM recorded the deaths of 501 women during migration. Nearly half of them drowned attempting to cross a body of water. The reasons for deaths during migration on land, include exposure to harsh environments, vehicle accidents and a lack of access to medicine for those who fell ill.

Mauritanian vail produced traditionally. in shop run by a migrant returnee, by © Sibylle Desjardins / IOM

These fatalities were logged as part of IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, part of the agency’s efforts to bring more attention to the circumstances in which women and girls die or go missing during their journey, and bring about policy change so that more migrant women and girls lead lives in dignity and safety.

A successful return home

For Mouna, the nightmare she experienced in the Gulf is over. With the help of an IOM reintegration programme, she has been able to rebuild a new, more successful life back in Mauritania. 

The programme supports vulnerable returnee migrants, many of whom spend all of their savings to leave home. As well as providing psychosocial and medical assistance, IOM gave them the financial support they needed to start income-generating activities.

For Mouna, this meant opening a shop selling items for women. Today, she has an expanding customer base, and a growing demand for her products.

“I never thought I would be able to start up a business on my own”, she says. “IOM helped me rebuild my confidence and I am grateful, from the depth of my heart”.
 

COVID-19: UN donates quarter of a million face masks to NYC health workers

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In a statement, Mr. Guterres said that the face masks stored in United Nations facilities, werer part of UN stocks, deemed surplus to requirements.

The UN chief praised medical professionals in New York City who, he said, have been working “courageously, selflessly, and tirelessly in response to the spread of COVID-19 across the boroughs,” in a reference to the five boroughs into which the City is administratively divided (Manhattan, Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island).

Mr. Guterres went on to express his hope that the protective equipment will “play some small role in saving lives”.

Shortly after the statement was released, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, said in a press conference that the spread of the virus is leaving people disorientated. The State is on lockdown and, said Mr. Cuomo, the peak of the virus is still forecast to be up to three weeks away.

728 people have died from COVID-19, said the New York governor, and the State is working on three hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 patients. The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, said on Friday that the City needs some 15,000 ventilators to treat critically patients.

Noting that the UN speaks “with one voice to express our resolute support for this great city and its proud people”, the Secretary-General expressed his hope that the “modest donation” of face masks will makes a difference.  

New York, declared Mr. Guterres is “not just our home or the headquarters of the United Nations.  It is a vibrant international capital through which the world communicates, debates, trades, and prospers”.

United Nations and US Mission personnel are currently working with the Mayor’s office to ensure the swift delivery of the face masks to medical facilities around the city.
 

COVID-19: UN envoy hails strong Israel-Palestine cooperation

Mr. Mladenov’s comments were made during a telephone conversation with the other members of the Middle East Quartet, a body set up to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is made up of representatives of the European Union, Russia, the USA, and the United Nations. 

Coronavirus Portal & News Updates

Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

During the call, which took place on Thursday, Mr. Mladenov gave a detailed briefing on the UN COVID-19 response plan, focusing mainly on Gaza, where there is a substantial risk of the disease spreading. 

In a statement released on Friday, the coordination and cooperation established between Israel and Palestine, with regard to tackling COVID-19, was described as “excellent”. 

The Israeli and Palestinian authorities are continuing to coordinate their responses closely and constructively, the statement said, which is a major factor in the level of disease containment achieved so far.

The Israeli government has reportedly approved measures to limit the movement of people and trade, including closing schools and banning mass gatherings, whilst the Palestinian Prime Minister is reported to have ordered a lockdown on Sunday night.

Latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures show more than 3,300 confirmed cases in Israel, and more than 80 in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Israel has allowed the entry of critical supplies and equipment into Gaza: examples of critical supplies include swabs for collection of samples and other laboratory supplies required for COVID-19 testing, and Personal Protective Equipment to protect health workers.

The statement also noted Israel’s cooperation in allowing health workers and other personnel involved in the COVID-19 response to move in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.
 

Migrants in Hawaii care for the elderly, the aloha way

It’s three o’clock in the afternoon at the Lunalilo Home, a residential and day care centre for elderly people nestling at the foot of a dormant volcano on the outskirts of Honolulu, the capital of the US state of Hawaii. Novena Sanchez, originally from the Philippines, busies herself looking after the kupuna, the Hawaiian term for older people, who have gathered in the home’s communal room for an afternoon of activities. 

Ms. Sanchez came to the United States some 22 years ago after training as a nurse in the Philippines. During a break from work, she told UN News that she was always attracted to the nursing profession. “Since I was a young girl, whenever I went into a hospital or health centre, I would admire the nurses working there.”

From the Philippines to the US

She grew up in her home country in what she describes as a “hard way” and says she was “lucky” to come to the United States to live and work alongside her husband who had enlisted in the US navy.
She’s been working for several years at Lunalilo, which was established in 1883 following a bequest by High Chief William Lunalilo, a former King of the Hawaiian Islands. 

Like many migrants, Ms. Sanchez brings useful skills and experience to her adopted country but says she has also sacrificed being away from her parents. Hers may be the typical migrant experience, sending money home to family in the Philippines while recognizing her “responsibilities” towards four children who were born in the United States.
Ms. Sanchez is not the only migrant worker employed at Lunalilo. She’s joined by colleagues from as far away as Uganda, Tonga and Ecuador. 

Diane Paloma is the CEO of Lunalilo Home in Honolulu, Hawaii., by UN News/Daniel Dickinson

And the CEO of Lunalilo homes, Diane Paloma, is herself the descendant of Japanese migrant workers who came four generations ago to work on Hawaii’s sugar cane plantations.

“Migrants have played a critical role in Hawaii and continue to do so, especially in the health care sector,” she told UN News in her office overlooking Lunalilo’s verdant tropical lawn and small kitchen garden.

“It’s good to have diversity in the workforce” she says. “We don’t want to have only one particular type of caregiver, so we welcome diversity and I personally love the different cultures that they bring to Lunalilo, especially the food!”

Aloha culture

Hawaii’s indigenous culture is reflected strongly in the daily life of the Pacific island archipelago and its multicultural communities, most commonly through the greeting aloha, which means hello, but which also carries a deeper cultural and spiritual significance encompassing love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy.    

Ms. Paloma recognizes that migrant workers often come with “different philosophical values. My challenge is, how can I teach somebody from another country, aloha and that compassion? It takes a little bit longer than if we had somebody who innately understands aloha and caring for kupuna, so employing a migrant can come with risks.”

Good health and well-being

SDG Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being., by United Nations

The migration of health and other skilled workers from developing to developed countries is not a new phenomenon, but the World Health Organization [https://www.who.int/hrh/migration/en/] says it is on the rise. Over the last decade, there has been a 60 per cent increase in migrant doctors and nurses working in the world’s wealthiest countries.

And while that may be good news for healthcare in those developed countries, poorer countries are often losing skilled workers either on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. The brain-drain of skilled workers means that the target of providing universal health coverage, a key aim of the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) which focuses on Good Health and Well-Being may be more difficult to reach.

Decent work

According to the International Labour Organization, the UN’s work-focused agency, some 2.1 billion people were in need of health care services in 2015; by 2030, this number is expected to reach 2.3 billion, driven by an additional 200 million older persons and children.

Speaking in Hawaii, Kevin Cassidy, the Director of the ILO’s office for the United States said that “sweeping changes in policies should address the rising need for care,” adding that “investment in the care economy should be an explicit objective of employment, macroeconomic, sectoral, internal and international labour migration and social protection policies,” leading to “decent work outcomes for migrant and national workers.”

Back at Lunalilo home, Novena Sanchez is showing a younger Hawaiian member of staff the best technique for helping kupuna to support their breathing using an oxygen tank. “I’m proud and confident of what I do and I’m always willing to help my colleagues.” They understand the advice she provides has come from years of experience. It’s unlikely, right now, that she will take these skills back to the Philippines, recognizing that she may only return to the country of her birth when she eventually retires.   

Good Health and Well-Being

  • The aim of creating a healthier global population is the target of SDG 3.
  • The UN believes that “ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being at all ages is essential to sustainable development.”
  • Among the targets are reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births from 211 (in 2017) and ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases as well as combating hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.

UNFPA advocates for women, girls suffering unseen impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

In a statement on Friday, Executive Director of the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, Natalia Kanem, said the Fund’s work is ramping up even as the novel coronavirus continues to test health care systems around the world.  

She warned that women, girls and health workers must not be overlooked as the world responds to the greatest health crisis in a century.   

Women and girls most vulnerable 

As in most crises, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted access to critical sexual and reproductive health services and hampered authorities’ ability to respond to gender-based violence, at a time when women and girls need these services most.  

UNFPA is helping governments prioritize the special needs of women and girls – often the most vulnerable in times of crises – in line with the Fund’s goals of ending unmet need for family planning, preventable maternal deaths, gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030. 

In his appeal for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this week, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that women and children are among the most vulnerable in times of war and face the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from the pandemic. 

UNFPA has appealed to donors to fund its response plan, which targets countries with weak public health systems including countries in fragile and humanitarian situations.  It is provisionally projecting that it will need $187.5 million. 

Efforts will focus on bolstering health systems, procuring and delivering essential supplies to protect health workers, ensuring access to reproductive health and gender-based violence services, and promoting risk communication and community engagement. 

Invisible impacts of COVID-19 

As communities around the globe grapple with the most immediate effects of the pandemic, overwhelmed healthcare systems and populations in quarantine can also suffer a ripple of additional impacts. 

“Now is a time for solidarity, resolve and selflessness.  We must not forget that there are people we may not immediately see, who are at great risk as a result of the consequences of the crisis,” said Dr. Kanem. 

Those can include pregnant women who require antenatal care but are unsure whether it is safe to go to the clinic, as well as women in abusive relationships trapped at home for the foreseeable future and fearing for their safety.  

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Readers can find information and guidance on the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) from the UN, World Health Organization and UN agencies here. For daily news updates from UN News, click here.

Dr. Kanem also pointed to tens of millions of people living in refugee camps – for whom “social distancing” practices are not an option – and older people around the globe who remain isolated and starved of social interaction as they avoid infection.  

Meeting ‘intimate, yet essential’ needs 

UNFPA is working to support affected health systems, in particular by distributing material support to protect health workers and midwives. 

In China, Iran and the Philippines, it has distributed essential hygiene and other items to the most vulnerable and personal protective equipment to health workers.  In the Republic of Moldova, it has launched an online dashboard which disaggregates the country’s current caseload by location, sex, age and pregnancy status.  

However, Dr. Kanem stressed that more work is needed to ensure that the most intimate – yet essential – needs of women and girls are met as the world continues to battle COVID-19 in the months ahead.  

“This global scourge requires a global response,” she said, urging the international community to stand up for the dignity and health of women as part of its efforts. 

For more information on UNFPA’s response to COVID-19, please visit www.UNFPA.org. 

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