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Pandemic experts express concern over avian influenza spread to humans

Dr Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the avian influenza virus – which is also known as H5N1 – has had an “extremely high” mortality rate among the several hundred people known to have been infected with it to date.

To date, no human-to-human H5N1 transmission has been recorded.

“H5M1 is (an) influenza infection, predominantly started in poultry and ducks and has spread effectively over the course of the last one or two years to become a global zoonotic – animal – pandemic,” he said. 

“The great concern, of course, is that in doing so and infecting ducks and chickens – but now increasingly mammals – that that virus now evolves and develops the ability to infect humans. And then critically, the ability to go from human-to-human transmission.”

Cattle mystery

Commenting on an ongoing outbreak of H5N1 virus among dairy cows in the United States, the WHO senior official urged further close monitoring and investigation by public health authorities, “because it may evolve into transmitting in different ways”.

Cows graze near a drilling rig in Texas, USA.
Unsplash/Donald Giannatti

Cows graze near a drilling rig in Texas, USA.

He added: “Do the milking structures of cows create aerosols? Is it the environment which they’re living in? Is it the transport system that is spreading this around the country? This is a huge concern and I think we have to … make sure that if H5N1 did come across to humans with human-to-human transmission, that we were in a position to immediately respond with access equitably to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.”

Equal to next pandemic

The development comes as the WHO announced updated language to describe airborne pathogens, in a bid to increase international cooperation in the event of a new – and expected – global pandemic.

The initiative was originally sparked by the COVID-19 emergency and the recognition that there was a lack of commonly agreed terms among medics and scientists to describe how the coronavirus was transmitted, which increased the challenge of overcoming it, Dr Farrar explained.

Global appeal

To counter this, the WHO led consultations with four major public health agencies from Africa, China, Europe and the United States, before announcing agreement on a number of agreed new terms. These include “infectious respiratory particles” or “IRPs”, which should be used instead of “aerosols” and “droplets”, to avoid any confusion about the size of the particles involved.

Over and above the new terminology, the initiative cements the commitment of the international community to tackle ever “more complex and more frequent epidemics and pandemics”, Dr Farrar told journalists in Geneva.

“It’s a hugely important first step. But next, we need to keep the disciplines, the experts together. 

“We’re using the same terminology, the same language, and now we need to do the science that provides the evidence on tuberculosis, on COVID and other respiratory pathogens, so that we know how to control those infections better than we have done in the past.” 

On the potential HN51 public health risk, the WHO Chief Scientist cautioned that vaccine development was not “where we need to be”. Neither was it the case that regional offices and country offices and public health authorities around the world have the capability to diagnose H5N1, he noted.

Violations of women’s reproductive health rights trigger rise in preventable deaths

Interwoven Lives, Threads of Hope: Ending inequalities in sexual and reproductive health and rights, reveals that more than half of all preventable maternal deaths occur in countries which are in a state of crisis or distress.

It highlights the role that racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination play in blocking progress on sexual and reproductive health issues. 

Women and girls trapped in poverty are more likely to die prematurely due to lack of sufficient healthcare if they belong to minority groups or are trapped in a conflict setting, according to the findings. 

Overall, there have been significant advances in sexual and reproductive health it became a global sustainable development priority three decades ago.

In the space of a generation, we have reduced the unintended pregnancy rate by nearly one fifth, lowered the maternal death rate by one third, and secured laws against domestic violence in more than 160 countries,” UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem said, launching the report.


Stalled progress

But progress is slowing down or stalled in several key areas. In a world where a quarter of women cannot say no to sex with their partner and nearly one in 10 have no say over contraception, 800 women die every day giving birth – a disturbing figure that has remained unchanged since 2016.

Nearly 500 of those preventable deaths per day are happening in countries living through humanitarian crises and conflicts. 

The world made zero progress in saving women from preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth,” said Ms. Kanem, adding that for the first time, data was collected on whether women’s bodily autonomy is strengthening over time.

In 40 per cent of countries where information is available, autonomy is weakening due to an inability to reach “those furthest behind”, she added.

There is a clear disparity between the global North and South, West and East, when it comes to contraceptives, safe birth services, respectful maternity care, and other essential services, the report documents.

Pockets of inequality

Yet, even within those regions there are “pockets of inequality”, the report underscores. Women of African descent in the Americas face higher maternal mortality rates compared to white women, which is especially evident in the United States where it’s three times the national average. 

Indigenous and ethnic minorities also face elevated risks related to pregnancy and childbirth. 

Within Europe, in Albania, for example, over 90 per cent of Roma women from the most marginalized socioeconomic groups had serious problems in accessing healthcare compared with only five per cent of ethnic Albanian women from the most privileged strata. 

Additionally, women with disabilities are up to ten times more likely to experience gender-based violence, and individuals of diverse sexual orientation and gender expression encounter significant violence and barriers to care.


No ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions 

The report highlights the importance of tailoring programmes to the needs of communities and empowering women and girls to craft and implement innovative solutions. 

It also calculates that if additional $79 billion are invested in low and middle-income countries by 2030, 400 million unplanned pregnancies could be averted, a million lives saved and $660 billion in economic benefits could be generated

The ability to secure reproductive health rights, the UNFPA Executive Director believes, is another major challenge.   

“It is indeed the responsibility of men to be champions of women’s reproductive rights, of everyone’s reproductive rights,” Ms. Kanem said.

Nigeria first country to introduce ‘revolutionary’ meningitis vaccine

The Men5CV vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W, Y and X – which cause the disease. 

Known by the brand name MenFive, it provides broader protection than the vaccine currently used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain. 

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Defeating a ‘deadly foe’ 

Meningitis is an old and deadly foe, but this new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General.  

The rollout in Nigeria represents one step closer towards the goal of total elimination by 2030, he added. 

Meningitis is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord and can be fatal. Symptoms often include headache, fever and stiff neck. 

There are multiple causes, including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens. The most serious – bacterial meningitis – can also result in blood poisoning and can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours after being contracted.   

Vaccination campaign 

Nigeria is among the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries of Africa, an area known as the African Meningitis Belt.  

WHO said 153 people died in an outbreak in Nigeria between 1 October 2023 and 11 March of this year. A vaccination campaign was launched in late March to reach more than a million people aged 29 and under. 

“Northern Nigeria, particularly the states of Jigawa, Bauchi and Yobe were badly hit by the deadly outbreak of meningitis, and this vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak but also put the country on a path to elimination,” said Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate of the Nigerian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. 

WHO said the new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating the disease, which is especially important for countries like Nigeria where multiple serogroups are prevalent.  

Hepatitis killing thousands daily, WHO warns in new report

The disease is the second leading infectious cause of death globally, with 1.3 million deaths per year, the same as tuberculosis, another top infectious killer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 2024 Global Hepatitis Report.

“This report paints a troubling picture,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Despite progress globally in preventing hepatitis infections, deaths are rising because far too few people with hepatitis are being diagnosed and treated.”

Swift course correction

Even though better tools for diagnosis and treatment are available and product prices are decreasing, testing and treatment coverage rates have stalled, the UN health agency stated in the report, released at the World Hepatitis Summit.

But, reaching the WHO elimination goal by 2030 should still be achievable, if swift action is taken now, the agency said.

WHO is committed to supporting countries to use all the tools at their disposal – at access prices – to save lives and turn this trend around,” the UN health agency chief said.

The waiting area at a health clinic in Rwanda. Hepatitis B birth-dose immunization coverage is only 45 per cent globally, with less than 20 per cent coverage in the WHO African region.
© WHO/Isaac Rudakubana

The waiting area at a health clinic in Rwanda. Hepatitis B birth-dose immunization coverage is only 45 per cent globally, with less than 20 per cent coverage in the WHO African region.

Spike in deaths

More than 6,000 people are getting newly infected with viral hepatitis each day, according to the report.

New data from 187 countries show that the estimated number of deaths from viral hepatitis increased from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2022. Of these, 83 per cent were caused by hepatitis B and 17 per cent by hepatitis C. 

Updated WHO estimates indicate that 254 million people live with hepatitis B and 50 million with hepatitis C in 2022. Half the burden of chronic hepatitis B and C infections is among people 30 and 54 years old, with 12 per cent among children. Men account for 58 per cent of all cases.

Gaps in diagnosis and treatment 

Across all regions, only 13 per cent of people living with chronic hepatitis B infection had been diagnosed and approximately three per cent, or seven million, had received antiviral therapy at the end of 2022, falling far below global targets to treat 80 per cent of people living with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C by 2030.

The burden of viral hepatitis also varies regionally. The WHO African Region bears 63 per cent of new hepatitis B infections, yet despite this burden, only 18 per cent of newborns in the region receive the hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination.

In the western Pacific region, which accounts for 47 per cent of hepatitis B deaths, treatment coverage stands at 23 per cent among people diagnosed, which is far too low to reduce mortality.

In addition, despite the availability of affordable generic viral hepatitis medicines, many countries fail to procure them at these lower prices.

In Chile, new hepatitis treatments mean around 98 per cent of patients recover completely.

In Chile, new hepatitis treatments mean around 98 per cent of patients recover completely.

Eradicating the epidemic

The WHO report outlines a series of actions to advance a public health approach to viral hepatitis, designed to accelerate progress towards ending the epidemic by 2030.

They include expanding access to testing and diagnostics, strengthening primary care prevention efforts and shifting from policies to implementation for equitable treatment.

But funding remains a challenge, the agency said, with current levels insufficient to meet the needs.

WHO said this arises from a combination of factors, including limited awareness of cost-saving interventions and tools and competing health priorities.

The new report also highlights strategies for countries to address these inequities and access the tools at the most affordable prices available.


United Nations




  • Promote mental health and wellbeing and strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse
  • Reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from pollution, contamination and tobacco
  • Achieve universal health coverage, and provide access to affordable, essential vaccines and medicines
  • Reduce global maternal mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births and under-five mortality to at least 25 per 1,000 live births
  • End epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and combat hepatitis and other communicable diseases


Sustainable development hinges on ensuring healthy lives and promoting wellbeing at all ages.

Mother makes 200km emergency trip across rural Madagascar to save baby

“I thought I was going to lose my baby and die on the journey to hospital.”

The chilling words of Samueline Razafindravao, who had to make the harrowing hours-long trip to the nearest specialist hospital in Ambovombe town in the Androy region of southern Madagascar after it became clear she might lose her child if she did not seek urgent medical attention.

Ms. Razafindravao spoke to UN News ahead of World Health Day, marked annually on 7 April.

In a country where many babies are born at home and where a traditional midwife may be paid a chicken to deliver a baby, the decision she had to make was a momentous one.

“I tried to give birth at home because I was worried about the expense of going to hospital,” she said, “but I knew I was having too many difficulties, so I went to the local health centre.”

Health carers there recognised that she needed a more sophisticated level of care and called an ambulance from the Androy Regional Referral Hospital, a journey across a region laced with unyielding roads.

“The baby was pushing a lot and then suddenly was not moving. I thought I was going to die and lose the baby as well.”

Lack of ambulances

It’s a rare lifesaving luxury and an unusual opportunity to be able to call an ambulance in Madagascar. But, then the Androy Regional Referral Hospital is perhaps not a typical hospital in what is one of the poorest regions in one of Africa’s poorest countries.

It has developed into a specialist hospital for a range of services, including maternal health, thanks in part to the support of United Nations agencies working in the country. The United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, provided one of the two ambulances the hospital has at its disposal.  

The agency also supports a surgeon who carries out Caesarean sections as well as obstetric fistula surgery as well as two midwives who help with delivering babies and family planning. It has also provided incubators for premature babies and birthing kits for mothers.

Solar panels provide a reliable source of electricity to the hospital.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

Solar panels provide a reliable source of electricity to the hospital.

UNFPA’s Dr. Sadoscar Hakizimana, a surgeon who has delivered dozens of babies by Caesarian section at the hospital, believes that a concentration of maternal health services is the key to saving more lives.

“Many pregnant women, perhaps 60 to 70 per cent, who arrive here have already lost their baby because they have sought medical help too late,” he said, “but we have a 100 per cent success rate of healthy births, either natural or Caesarian, for those mothers who arrive on time, as we have a range of care options we can offer them.”

All the care is free and is complemented by other services provided by different UN agencies. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is providing nutritional and medical care for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition as well as information sessions on good nutritional practices for parents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is providing services for people with disabilities and those with mental health challenges.

And UN Development Programme (UNDP) has worked with the hospital to install solar panels to ensure that the equipment essential to keeping people alive is not rendered inoperable by the sometimes erratic power supply from the grid.

Dr. Germaine Retofa helps a new mother to breastfeed.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

Dr. Germaine Retofa helps a new mother to breastfeed.

Dr. Germaine Retofa, the acting Regional Director for Public Health in Androy, has overseen the integration of services at the hospital which has led, amongst other improvements, to a reduction in maternal and infant mortality as well as an increase in childhood vaccination.

“It makes sense to bring all these services together, as we can offer a more holistic approach to health care which may include maternal health services alongside nutrition advice and care for malnourished children,” she said. “It’s also easier to add additional services when we have this structure in place.”

The UN in Madagascar is focusing its resources on what it is calling “convergence zones”, which allows UN humanitarian and development-focused agencies to coordinate long-term interventions. 

Young mothers recover in the maternity ward of the Androy Regional Referral Hospital .
UN News/Daniel Dickinson

Young mothers recover in the maternity ward of the Androy Regional Referral Hospital .

“In these convergence zones, it’s really important to underscore that development and humanitarian actors work in partnership,” said Natasha van Rijn, the Resident Representative for the UNDP in Madagascar.

“If we allow ourselves to look at the situation in Madagascar with all the complexity it deserves, then we have a chance of addressing the needs in all their complex multisectoral dimensions,” she added.

Back at Androy Regional Referral Hospital, Ms. Razafindravao and her now four-day-old baby girl, who was ultimately born by Caesarean section, are doing well on the maternity ward. As a young mother, she is learning how to breastfeed her baby, who she has named Fandresena, and before long, she’ll make the long 200 km journey back home, but this time not in an ambulance called in an emergency.



  • Strengthen resilience and adaptation to climate-related hazards and natural disasters
  • Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning
  • Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaption, impact reduction and early warning
  • Raise capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.


Gaza: ‘Systematic dismantling of healthcare must end’ says WHO

That’s the assessment following a WHO-led multi-agency mission to  Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza on 5 April which examined the extent of destruction following a weeks-long Israeli offensive aimed at rooting out militant forces who were allegedly operating inside.

The highly complex mission was conducted in collaboration with the acting Hospital Director.

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Prior to the mission, WHO’s efforts to reach the hospital to evacuate patients and staff and conduct an assessment, were denied, delayed or impeded six times between 25 March and 1 April.

‘An empty shell’

Like the majority of the north, Al-Shifa Hospital ­“is now an empty shell after the latest siege”, said WHO, with no patients remaining at the facility.

“Most of the buildings are extensively damaged or destroyed and the majority of equipment is unusable or reduced to ashes.”

The WHO team said that the scale of devastation has left the facility completely non-functional, further reducing access to life-saving healthcare in Gaza.

Restoring even minimal functionality in the short term seems implausible and will require substantial efforts to assess and clear the grounds for unexploded ordnance to ensure safety and accessibility”, said WHO.

The hospital’s emergency department, surgical, and maternity ward buildings are extensively damaged due to explosives and fire.

At least 115 beds in what once was the emergency department have been burnt and 14 incubators in the NICU destroyed, among other assets. An in-depth assessment by a team of engineers is needed to determine if these buildings can be made safe for future use.

The hospital’s oxygen plant has been destroyed, leaving Kamal Adwan Hospital as the only source of medical oxygen production in the north. Further comprehensive assessment is essential to evaluate the functionality of vital equipment such as CT scanners, ventilators, sterilization devices, and surgical equip

A multi agency UN team assess the destruction of Al-Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, following the end of the latest Israeli siege there.

A multi agency UN team assess the destruction of Al-Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, following the end of the latest Israeli siege there.

ment, including surgical tools and anaesthesia devices, the agency reported.

Shallow graves

Numerous shallow graves have been dug just outside the emergency department, and the administrative and surgical buildings, WHO said.

“In the same area, many dead bodies were partially buried with their limbs visible. During the visit, WHO staff witnessed at least five bodies lying partially covered on the ground, exposed to the heat” with “a pungent smell of decomposing bodies engulfing the hospital compound.

Safeguarding dignity, even in death, is an indispensable act of humanity”, the agency added.

According to the acting Hospital Director, patients were held in abysmal conditions during the siege. They endured severe lack of food, water, healthcare, hygiene and sanitation, and were forced to relocate between buildings at gunpoint. At least 20 patients have reportedly died due to the lack of access to care and limited movement authorized for health personnel.

Unnecessary delays

Despite deconfliction, Friday’s mission faced significant delays at the military checkpoint en route to Al-Shifa Hospital. On the same day, another WHO-led mission bound for Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan hospitals in northern Gaza – to deliver medical supplies, fuel, deploy emergency medical teams, and support referral of critical patients – encountered unnecessary delays, including the detention of a supply truck driver who was part of the convoy.

Between mid-October and the end of March, over half of all WHO missions have been denied, delayed, impeded or postponed. “As health needs soar, the lack of a functional deconfliction system is a major obstacle in delivering humanitarian aid at the scale that is needed”, the UN health agency said.

The destruction of Al-Shifa Hospital and Nasser Medical Complex in the southern city of Khan Younis last month, “has broken the backbone of the already ailing health system.”

Footage shows the destruction of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, following the end of the latest Israeli siege. The World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated that hospitals must be respected and protected; not be used as battlefields.
UN News

Footage shows the destruction of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza, following the end of the latest Israeli siege. The World Health Organization (WHO) reiterated that hospitals must be respected and protected; not be used as battlefields.

As WHO marks World Health Day on Sunday, under the theme My health, my right, this basic right is utterly out of reach for the civilians of Gaza, said the agency.

“Access to health care in Gaza has become totally inadequate, and the ability of WHO and partners to help is constantly disrupted and impeded.”

Of the 36 main hospitals that used to serve over two million Gazans, only 10 remain somewhat functional, with severe limitations on the types of services they can deliver.

Rafah invasion: ‘unimaginable health consequences’

Any military incursion into Rafah where nearly 1.5 million are sheltering can only result in further loss of healthcare and would have unimaginable health consequences. 

“The systematic dismantling of healthcare must end”, said WHO.

It also demanded the opening up of additional land crossings, as Israel has indicated that it was prepared to do following a call with the White House earlier in the week, to allow access into and across Gaza more safely and directly.

Sudan: Aid lifeline reaches Darfur region in bid to avert ‘hunger catastrophe’

“The UN WFP has managed to bring desperately needed food and nutrition supplies into Darfur; the first WFP assistance to reach the war-wracked region in months,” said Leni Kinzli, WFP Communications Officer in Sudan.

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The convoys crossed into Sudan from Chad in late March carrying enough food and nutrition supplies for 250,000 people facing acute hunger in North, West and Central Darfur. 

Constant flow needed

Despite this welcome development, the UN agency spokesperson warned that unless the people of Sudan receive a constant flow of aid “via all possible humanitarian corridors from neighbouring countries and across battle lines”, the country’s hunger catastrophe will only worsen.

Last month, WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain warned that the war in Sudan risks triggering the world’s worst hunger crisis unless families in Sudan and those who have fled to South Sudan and Chad receive desperately needed food assistance. 

This requires unfettered access, faster clearances, and funds to deliver humanitarian response that meets the huge needs of civilians impacted by the devastating war.

Humanitarian stakes

Securing safe and constant aid access to the Darfurs “has been extremely challenging”, WFP’s Ms. Kinzli explained, adding that the situation has been complicated further by the decision of the head of the Sudanese armed forces based in Port Sudan to refuse permission to humanitarians seeking to reach the Darfurs from Chad.

Delayed response

“Fierce fighting, lack of security and lengthy clearances by the warring parties have led to delays in the distribution of this assistance to people in need,” Ms. Kinzli insisted. “WFP and our partners urgently need security guarantees and deconfliction so the supplies in North Darfur can be distributed to people who are struggling to find even one basic meal a day.”

The UN agency reported on Friday that 37 trucks carrying 1,300 tons of supplies crossed last week into West Darfur from Adre in Chad – and that food distributions were underway in West and Central Darfur.

Last year, WFP supported one million people in West and Central Darfur with food transported via Chad’s Adre crossing.

Another 16 trucks with around 580 tons of supplies entered North Darfur from Chad’s Tina border crossing on 23 March, WFP said. 

An additional six trucks with 260 metric tons of food reached the area from Port Sudan a few days later – the first aid delivery to be transported across conflict lines in six months. 

But the UN agency noted that “fierce fighting, lack of security, and lengthy clearances by the warring parties” had led to delays in the distribution of this assistance.

Geneina in crisis

“There is a lack of clarity whether we will be able to continue and regularly use the cross border [route] from Adre into West Darfur, which is so critical because West Darfur is among the most food-insecure areas in Sudan,” the WFP official noted.

This is especially the case in Geneina, capital of West Darfur, where the UN agency said that “many vulnerable women” had reportedly stormed one of the distribution points “out of desperation because there was not enough food for everyone”.

Over the last four to five years, Geneina is also the place “where we see the highest levels of hunger in the lean season”, Ms. Kinzli said.

Sudan’s war between rival generals which erupted last April has driven hunger to record levels, with 18 million people facing acute malnutrition. In Darfur, 1.7 million people are already enduring emergency levels of hunger – IPC4 – according to global food security experts.

“If we aren’t able to use that specific corridor (from Adre to West Darfur) and continue to use it and scale up via that corridor…what is going to happen to the people of West Darfur who are bearing the brunt of this conflict, who are in an unimaginable situation?” WFP’s Ms. Kinzli said.

World News in Brief: Security Council condemns DR Congo attacks, cholera testing breakthrough, ‘my health, my right’ campaign

In a statement following a briefing last week by Bintou Keita, the head of the UN mission, MONUSCO, ambassadors condemned all armed groups operating in the country and demanded the immediate cessation of hostilities and of any further advances by the M23.

They expressed concern over ongoing displacement in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu and called on all donors to scale up support in response to the 2024 humanitarian response plan.

Safe, timely and unhindered access

They called on all parties, in particular the M23 and Congolese armed groups, to provide safe, timely and unhindered humanitarian access to those in need and to end attacks against civilians.

The Council condemned “foreign military support provided to M23 and any other armed group”, saying any such assistance must end and that foreign fighters must withdraw.

They expressed deep concern at the reports of the Group of Experts on the DRC on foreign military support for M23 – reportedly involving the Russia-based Wagner Group – and direct military interventions on DRC territory.

The Council members condemned in the strongest terms recent attacks against MONUSCO, its personnel and its assets and reiterated their support to the gradual, responsible and sustainable withdrawal of the UN Mission.

They strongly encouraged DRC authorities to take concrete action, including accelerated security sector reform and timely implementation of the national disarmament and demobilisation programme.

 The members of the Security Council called on all parties to maintain diplomatic dialogue and to engage on concrete steps towards de-escalation.  

Global deployment of rapid diagnostic tests to boost fight against cholera

A massive cholera-busting initiative partnered by the UN is underway, with more than 1.2 million rapid diagnostic tests for the disease heading to 14 countries.

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This is the largest global deployment of cholera tests ever, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The first shipment was due to land in Malawi on Friday.

Coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the tests will help local health authorities to improve the detection of cholera, monitor outbreaks and judge the effectiveness of their vaccination campaigns.

The cholera test kits are bound for countries at high risk of outbreaks in the coming months, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Syria and Zambia, and they follow pilot studies in DR Congo, Niger and Nepal.

Cholera has been surging globally since 2021, with high numbers of deaths despite the availability of simple, effective and affordable treatment.

The global rise in the preventable disease has been driven by poor access to safe water and sanitation and the failure to detect outbreaks quickly to limit their spread.

Communities impacted often do not have access to basic health services, a situation made worse by climate-related factors, conflict and population displacement, the UN health agency noted.

‘My health, my right’ campaign marks World Health Day

Staying with global health, World Health Day is this Sunday, and WHO is launching a new campaign to champion the right to health of everyone, everywhere.

My health, my right advocates for ensuring universal access to quality health services, education and information as well as safe drinking water, clean air, good nutrition, quality housing, decent working and environmental conditions and freedom from discrimination.

WHO contends that core challenges consistently compromising the right to health are political inaction, coupled with a lack of accountability and funding and compounded by intolerance, discrimination and stigma.

Populations facing marginalisation or vulnerability suffer the most, such as people who live in poverty, are displaced, are older or live with disabilities, the UN health agency said.

Exacerbated by crises

While inaction and injustice are the major drivers of the global failure to deliver on the right to health, current crises are leading to especially egregious violations.

The burning of fossil fuels is simultaneously driving the climate crisis and violating our right to breathe clean air.

“Everyone deserves access to quality, timely and appropriate health services, without being subjected to discrimination or financial hardship,” said WHO, launching the campaign.

“Yet, in 2021, 4.5 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, were not covered by essential health services, leaving them vulnerable to diseases and disasters.”

Explainer: What is famine?

With the release of the latest food security report from the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) on war-ravaged Gaza since December, World Food Programme (WFP) chief economist Arif Husain walked UN News through the process.

What is the threshold for famine?

Famine is essentially a technical term, referring to a population that faces widespread malnutrition and hunger-related deaths due to a lack of access to food. 

“We say there is a famine when three conditions come together in a specific geographic area, whether a town, village, city, even a country,” WFP’s Mr. Husain explained.

  • At least 20 per cent of the population in that particular area are facing extreme levels of hunger;
  • 30 per cent of the children in the same place are wasted, or too thin for their height; and
  • The death – or mortality – rate has doubled, from the average, surpassing two deaths per 10,000 daily for adults and four deaths per 10,000 daily for children.

“You can clearly see that in a way, famine is admission of collective failure,” he said. “We should act way before the famine, so people don’t starve, children are not wasted and people don’t die of hunger-related causes.”

A mother and her child rest  at a relief centre in Bati, Ethiopia, in 1984. (file)
UN Photo/John Isaac

A mother and her child rest at a relief centre in Bati, Ethiopia, in 1984. (file)

How is hunger tracked?

Famines today are different than those experienced in the 1970s or 1980s, when drought was the main driver in Ethiopia and other nations, Mr. Husain told UN News, adding that years ago, when a famine occurred, “we could say, ‘I’m sorry. I did not know. If I had known, I would have done something about it.’”

“Today, we see crises in real time, so we cannot say we did not know,” he explained. “The onus is much higher today than it has ever been before.”

Climate-related food insecurity is now closely monitored thanks to a detailed tracking system used by international humanitarian agencies wherever they work, and today, famines or risks of one developing are now largely driven by conflict, as seen in South Sudan, Yemen and now in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In the 21st century, climate-related famines have largely been averted thanks to an innovative tool to track acute hunger, developed during the crisis in Somalia in 2004 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and now used by humanitarian agencies worldwide.

This initiative is called the Integrated Security Phase Classification, or IPC.

A family shares a meal in Yemen with food provided by the UN World food Programme (WFP).
© WFP/Saleh Hayyan

A family shares a meal in Yemen with food provided by the UN World food Programme (WFP).

What is the IPC?

The IPC is an innovative multipartner initiative for improving food security and nutrition analysis and decision making.

The IPC classification and analytical approach facilitates governments, UN Agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society and other relevant actors in working together to determine the severity and magnitude of acute and chronic food insecurity and acute malnutrition situations in a country according to internationally recognised standards.

The initiative spread has been used in more than 30 countries, and a global partnership of 19 organisations is leading the development and implementation of the IPC at global, regional and country levels.

With over 20 years of application, the IPC has proved to be one of the best practices in the global food security field.

It is also a model of collaboration in over 30 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The IPC tracks hunger but can also raise alarms ahead of potential widespread acute malnutrition before it transforms into more serious life-threatening conditions.

How does the IPC work?

The IPC itself does not collect data. The information comes from its humanitarian partners operating on the ground.

The information can cover food security, nutrition, mortality and people’s livelihoods as well as calorie intake, what kind of coping strategies people use to find food and the measurements of children’s arms to monitor malnutrition, known as the middle-upper arm circumference, or MUAC.

“Data collection does not stop, even in war zones,” Mr. Husain said.

In cases where locations are unreachable, mobile phone surveys are deployed to get information, and if that is not possible, satellites can generate information.

The UN continues to provide lifesaving food assistance in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
© WFP/Claire Nevill

The UN continues to provide lifesaving food assistance in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Technical experts from IPC partners crunch a large volume of data to better inform decision makers who can effectively address needs on the ground, with a view to avoiding a worst-case scenario.

IPC experts then gather to analyse the data, classifying populations into five categories: phase one is minimal or no stress in finding food reported; phase two sees people facing stress; phase three is a food crisis; phase four is an emergency; and phase five is considered to be a catastrophe or famine.

Based on the share of the population in each of the five phases, geographical areas are given a severity phase as well, presented by different colours on the IPC map, from the least severe to the most severe phase (minimal, stress, crisis, emergency and famine). 

Each of these geographic area phase classifications has important and distinct implications for where and how best to intervene, and therefore influences priority response objectives.

Displaced children search for food near the tents where they are staying with their families in Rafah in southern Gaza.
© UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

Displaced children search for food near the tents where they are staying with their families in Rafah in southern Gaza.

Famine Review Committee

In the case of a suspected famine, there is an additional step, which calls upon the IPC Famine Review Committee.

Comprising globally recognized experts in their fields, from nutrition and health to food security, the committee convenes when more than 20 per cent of the affected people are in IPC phase five, meaning famine or catastrophe conditions.

The consensus-based process requires all partners to agree on a conclusion that the Famine Review Committee verifies.

The committee meets and examines all the data and analyses provided by IPC partners to determine whether the findings are credible and to see whether the data justifies a famine classification or a plausible famine classification.

The experts then outline what is happening now and offer projections for the next three- or six-month periods, like in the IPC report on Gaza in December.

Somalia’s drought has left more than two million people facing severe food and water shortages.
UNDP Somalia

Somalia’s drought has left more than two million people facing severe food and water shortages.

How aid agencies respond to hunger alerts

Humanitarian agencies use these invaluable IPC classifications to plan and to help people from the phase three crisis level onwards, with the specific goal of avoiding a famine.

“What we try to do is to get to the people, so we never have to deal with the famine like situation, or IPC phase five,” Mr. Husain said. “We work very, very hard at the crisis level and definitely at the emergency level to save people’s lives so that they don’t get to IPC phase five, which is classified as a famine.”

That includes ramping up food aid.

“When we do that, we can save lives,” he said.

Children are taken by their mothers for nutrition screening in the Delams neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
© UNICEF/Herold Joseph

Children are taken by their mothers for nutrition screening in the Delams neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

‘For us, famine is the “F” word’

While needs remain high, according to WFP estimates, 309 million people in 72 countries face a level of hunger that is at the crisis level or worse. 

“For us, famine is the ‘F’ word,” Mr. Husain said, emphasizing that the end goal is prevention.

“If we are going to avoid these famines, the easiest way would be to stop the conflicts,” Mr. Husain said, “but if that is going to take time, then it is our responsibility that we are able to feed the innocent people, are able to provide the water and necessities like medicine to those people who are stuck in those places or may be displaced from those places.”

New IPC report on Gaza: Famine is ‘imminent’

The new IPC Famine Review Committee released it latest report on 18 March on the worsening situation in Gaza, where UN teams on the ground have long warned of an imminent famine against a backdrop of the ongoing Israeli military offensive in Gaza sparked by Hamas’s 7 October attacks against Israel.

Mohammad is getting measured as part of a malnutrition screening at a UNICEF-supported pediatrician clinic tent in Rafah in southern Gaza.
© UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

Mohammad is getting measured as part of a malnutrition screening at a UNICEF-supported pediatrician clinic tent in Rafah in southern Gaza.

Read our news story on the launch here.

Israel’s ground invasion has killed over 31,000 Gazans and, along with restrictions on aid entering the bombarded and besieged enclave, has triggered widespread hunger and growing numbers of deaths from starvation.

Since February 2024, Gaza’s entire population – 2.2 million people – had been classified at the IPC phase three crisis level or worse, the “highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country”, the group said.

The initial clarion call came from UN agencies and partners soon after the Israel’s October invasion following which the IPC Famine Review Committee produced its first report on Gaza at the end of 2023.

With keys drivers of food insecurity persisting, a second one was produced in March 2024. 

Here are some highlights from the latest report:

  • “The conditions necessary to prevent famine have not been met and the latest evidence confirms that famine is imminent in the northern governorates and projected to occur anytime between mid-March and May 2024”
  • 88 per cent of Gazans now face food insecurity levels classified as IPC level four or above, which corresponds to an emergency level or worse
  • Among this population, about 50 per cent (1.1 million people) are in a catastrophe situation, or IPC phase five
  • The level of acute malnutrition is expected to surpass the famine threshold (30 per cent) in northern Gaza, with the steep increase of wasting prevalence, from 0.8 to 15 per cent, over several months
  • The upward trend in non-trauma mortality is also expected to accelerate, resulting in crossing the famine threshold imminently by May 2024 
  • The increased nutritional vulnerability of children, pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly is a particular source of concern


WHO study shows $39 return for each dollar invested in fight against TB

Relatively modest new investment could result in significant health and economic benefits, with up to $39 worth of benefits for each dollar invested, the UN agency said, announcing the findings of a study conducted in Brazil, Georgia, Kenya and South Africa.

The returns extend beyond monetary, encompassing substantial improvements in public health outcomes and the mitigation of TB’s devastating impact on individuals, families and communities.

“The investment case outlines the health and economic rationale for investing in evidence-based, WHO-recommended interventions on TB screening and prevention that can contribute to advancing universal health coverage,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“Today, we have the knowledge, tools and political commitment that can end this millennia-old disease that remains one of the world’s top infectious killers.”

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Crucial advocacy tool

While significant strides have been made to combat the disease, with an estimated 75 million lives saved since 2000, TB continues to cause about 1.3 million deaths annually and affects millions more worldwide.

Moreover, multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) is a growing public health concern, with only about two in five people having accessed treatment in 2022.

Progress in the development of new TB diagnostics, drugs and vaccines remains constrained by the overall level of investment in these areas, WHO said, adding that it is clear much more needs to be done to combat TB.

Against this background, its investment case is expected to serve as a vital advocacy tool for securing increased resources for TB screening and preventive treatment, aligning with the commitments made by governments at the 2023 High-Level Meeting on TB.

2024 World TB Day

As the global community prepares to World TB Day on 24 March under the theme Yes! We can end TB!, the message reiterates the importance of high-level leadership, increased investments and accelerated uptake of important recommendations, WHO said.

The next five years will be critical for ensuring that the political momentum we have now is translated into concrete actions towards reaching global TB targets,” said Tereza Kasaeva, Director of WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Programme.

“WHO will continue to provide global leadership for the TB response, working with all stakeholders until we reach and save every person, family and community impacted by this deadly disease”.

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