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CORONAVIRUS: STATE OF THE WORLD …… Africa Could Suffer Greatest Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Warns – Says All Efforts Must Aim at Common Enemy

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Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks in a virtual meeting with the African Group, in New York yesterday as obtained from UN records.

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I would like to start by expressing my full solidarity with the people of Africa and with your Governments in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.  The crisis has wide-ranging implications, and the United Nations and African countries are working together across many challenges and concerns at this time. I want to thank you for your continued generosity towards refugees and migrants, as well as for the hospitality you extend to United Nations staff throughout the continent.  I am also grateful for the positive responses to my appeal for a global ceasefire, including from Chairperson Moussa Faki and a large number of African Heads of State.  My special envoys and representatives are working hard to translate the appeal into effective ceasefires.

All efforts must be aimed at the common enemy, as we brace for the expected spread of the pandemic in Africa.  This is in no way of Africa’s making.  But, as with the climate crisis, the African continent could end up suffering the greatest impacts. In these trying times, I would like to commend you for the early leadership and action taken by your Governments to do just this:  to suppress transmission and control the spread of COVID-19; and to prepare your people and the economy against its impacts

The examples are many:  Uganda is supporting businesses by rescheduling social security contributions; Namibia is offering emergency income grants to workers who have lost jobs; Cabo Verde is offering cash transfers and food assistance; Egypt has reduced taxation for industries and postponed taxation on agricultural land, and has expanded its social safety net programme.  It is clear that those efforts have drawn on the painful yet useful lessons from the outbreak of Ebola.

I welcome the African Union’s initiatives to support the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, establish a special anti-COVID-19 Response Fund and appoint Special Envoys to mobilize international economic support.  The development of a coordinated comprehensive continental COVID-19 strategy is a clear demonstration of Africa’s continued commitment to steady its course and define its own path to sustainable and inclusive development for the people of the continent.  It also illustrates the value Africa places on regional cooperation and multilateralism

The United Nations system is doing its utmost to provide support in building and complementing the capacities needed to address the spread.  Since the start of the outbreak, our peacekeeping and political missions have been developing awareness and mass community sensitization campaigns, trainings for civil servants and social workers, joint radio programmes, and helping with the development and implementation of local COVID-19 response plans.  The United Nations development system and Resident Coordinators are also fully mobilized.

A few examples: in Nigeria, the United Nations country team has contributed $2 million to procure essential medical supplies, including 50 ventilators that will double the national reserves, personal protective equipment, 30,000 test kits and five ambulances with surveillance equipment; in Kenya, the United Nations team has joined the National Business Compact to support the Government’s efforts against the spread of COVID-19; in Zimbabwe, the United Nations team is supporting the most immediate preparedness needs such as training of health-care workers and working on the school system’s preparation; in South Africa, the United Nations is partnering with local organizations to use technology to disseminate [World Health Organization] WHO-cleared messages on COVID-19 to communities and to create a platform to support children’s learning during the period when schools are closed due to the lockdown.

Throughout the continent, our Resident Coordinators and United Nations country teams are working with bilateral donors, international finance institutions and the private sector to leverage in-country funding to fight the pandemic.  WHO has been supporting Governments with early detection.  While at the start of the outbreak, only two countries could test for COVID-19, 47 African countries can now do so.  WHO is also providing remote support to national health authorities on the use of data, and helping local authorities ensure that the public is fully informed.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is also working closely with your countries in key areas, from briefing the African Union’s Peace and Security Council on the coronavirus’ impacts and helping develop food readiness plans, to calling on the international community, together with African finance ministers, for a debt relief package. We can only defeat COVID-19 in a holistic manner, taking into account not only the health system challenges, but also the broader development dimensions.  To help address the devastating economic and social consequences, I launched last month a report calling for a comprehensive multilateral response amounting to a double-digit percentage of global gross domestic product.

For Africa, that means over $200 billion to address the immediate impacts and to recover better. For this, we must mobilize all partners.  We need greater resources from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), including through the issuance of special drawing rights, and the enhanced support of other international financial institutions and bilateral mechanisms, as well as a comprehensive package to alleviate debt.

Debt relief must be an important part of the response.  The United Nations will continue to advocate for debt relief for Africa, including non-IDA [World Bank International Development Association] countries who cannot service their debt.  Debt relief from non-Paris Club official creditors and London Club commercial creditors should also be part of the consideration. As said at the G20, I fully support a coordinated mechanism for resource development to assist Africa in countering the pandemic, and I will join President [Cyril] Ramaphosa, as African Union Chairperson, in a meeting with the World Bank and IMF later this week, where I intend to express the United Nations solidarity with African countries and reiterate my calls for international support.

The pandemic is having a devastating impact on the most vulnerable.  The current socioeconomic situation could reverse the limited progress made on gender equality and women’s rights.  That is why we have also launched a report that recommends ways to put women’s leadership and contributions at the centre of every country’s efforts to fight and recover from COVID-19.  Tomorrow, I will launch a report on the impact of the virus on children, from health and hunger to education and basic safety.

We also remain fully committed to our humanitarian efforts on the ground.  As you know, we have launched a Global Humanitarian Response Plan, which has so far received around 20 per cent of the $2 billion required.  Refugees, displaced persons and others caught up in conflict face special vulnerabilities.  I welcome African commitment to ensure coordination between the different bodies and agencies on the ground; access for humanitarian personnel remains crucial.

I am pleased to note that the United Nations network of supply chains is contributing to the African response.  Just yesterday, the first “Solidarity Flight” with the combined efforts of the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization left Addis Ababa to distribute vital medical supplies.  With the help and coordination of the African Union’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, medical aprons, masks, thermometers, face shields, gloves, goggles, gowns and ventilators will reach many places in need across the continent.

I am glad we have been able to bring the supply networks of the United Nations at the service of countries in Africa and work together in this way, and look forward to more such flights and collaboration.  This mobilization, and the capacity of the United Nations to remain operational and support our Member States better in these challenging times, was also made possible by the implementation of our reforms, which allowed us to adjust and pursue our mission, in Headquarters and in the field.

A safe and effective vaccine may be the only tool that can return the world to a sense of “normalcy”, saving millions of lives and countless trillions of dollars.  This requires the accelerated development, production and equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine at a speed, scale, and coverage never seen before in human history.  Such a vaccine must have a universal global benefit and allow us to control the pandemic – a clear global public good. We need an ambitious effort to ensure that international stakeholders operate through a harmonized, integrated and leveraged approach to maximize the speed and scale needed for the universal deployment of such a vaccine by the end of 2020.

These exceptional circumstances call for exceptional solidarity at the international, regional, national and community levels.  Now, more than ever, we need to join hands and resources to overcome this global threat that affects us all, while leaving no one behind.  I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to its partnership with Africa as a crucial element in meeting this challenge.  Thank you.

ANTONIO GUTERRES — UN SECRETARY-GENERAL

 WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 15 April 2020

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening, wherever you are.

When the nations of the world met to form the United Nations in 1945, one of the first things they discussed was establishing an organization to protect and promote the health of the world’s people. They expressed that desire in the constitution of WHO, which says that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being, without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

That creed remains our vision today. The United States of America has been a longstanding and generous friend to WHO, and we hope it will continue to be so. We regret the decision of the President of the United States to order a halt in funding to the World Health Organization. With support from the people and government of the United States, WHO works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

WHO is not only fighting COVID-19. We’re also working to address polio, measles, malaria, Ebola, HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition, cancer, diabetes, mental health and many other diseases and conditions. We also work with countries to strengthen health systems and improve access to life-saving health services. WHO is reviewing the impact on our work of any withdrawal of U.S. funding and will work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face and to ensure our work continues uninterrupted. Our commitment to public health, science and to serving all the people of the world without fear or favour remains absolute.

Our mission and mandate are to work with all nations equally, without regard to the size of their populations or economies. COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small. It does not discriminate between nationalities, ethnicities or ideologies. Neither do we. This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat – a dangerous enemy. When we are divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.

We are committed to serving the world’s people, and to accountability for the resources with which we are entrusted. In due course, WHO’s performance in tackling this pandemic will be reviewed by WHO’s Member States and the independent bodies that are in place to ensure transparency and accountability. This is part of the usual process put in place by our Member States.

No doubt, areas for improvement will be identified and there will be lessons for all of us to learn. But for now, our focus – my focus – is on stopping this virus and saving lives.

WHO is grateful to the many nations, organizations and individuals who have expressed their support and commitment to WHO in recent days, including their financial commitment.  We welcome this demonstration of global solidarity, because solidarity is the rule of the game to defeat COVID-19. WHO is getting on with the job. We are continuing to study this virus every moment of every day, we are learning from many countries about what works, and we are sharing that information with the world. There are more than 1.5 million enrolments in WHO’s online courses through OpenWHO.org, and we will continue to expand this platform to train many more millions so we can fight COVID effectively.

Today we launched a new course for health workers on how to put on and remove personal protective equipment. Every day we bring together thousands of clinicians, epidemiologists, educators, researchers, lab technicians, infection prevention specialists and others to exchange knowledge on COVID-19. Our technical guidance brings together the most up-to-date evidence for health ministers, health workers and individuals. Yesterday I had the honour of speaking to heads of state and government from the 13 ASEAN-plus-three nations.

It was inspiring to hear their experiences, and their commitment to working together to secure a shared future. As a result of their experience with SARS and avian influenza, these countries have put in place measures and systems that are now helping them to detect and respond to COVID-19. We’re also continuing to work with partners all over the world to accelerate research and development. More than 90 countries have joined or have expressed interest in joining the Solidarity Trial, and more than 900 patients have now been enrolled, to evaluate the safety and efficacy of four drugs and drug combinations.

Three vaccines have already started clinical trials, more than 70 others are in development, and we’re working with partners to accelerate the development, production and distribution of vaccines. In addition to the Solidarity Trial, I am glad to say that WHO has convened groups of clinicians to look at the impact of corticosteroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs on treatment outcomes. Specifically, we are looking at oxygen use and ventilation strategies in patients. Any intervention that reduces the need for ventilation and improves outcomes for critically ill patients is important – especially in low-resource settings, to save lives. Last week I announced the United Nations Supply Chain Task Force, to scale up the distribution of essential medical equipment. Yesterday the first United Nations Solidarity Flight took off, transporting personal protective equipment, ventilators and lab supplies to many countries across Africa.

The Solidarity Flight is part of a massive effort to ship lifesaving medical supplies to 95 countries across the globe, in conjunction with the World Food Programme and other agencies including Unicef, the Global Fund, Gavi, and the United Nations Department of Operational Support, Unitaid and others. Whether it is by land, sea or air, WHO staff are working around the clock to deliver for health workers and communities everywhere. I would like to thank the African Union, the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia, the Jack Ma Foundation and all our partners for their solidarity with African countries at this critical moment in history. I would like to thank President Ramaphosa and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, for their leadership.

The Solidarity Response Fund has now generated almost US$150 million from 240,000 individuals and organizations. This Saturday, some of the biggest names in music are coming together for the One World: Together at Home concert, to generate further funds for the Solidarity Response Fund. But not just to raise funds, to bring the world together, because we’re one world, one humanity fighting a common enemy. I thank Lady Gaga, Global Citizen and all that are collaborating to put this concert together. We will continue to work with every country and every partner, to serve the people of the world, with a relentless commitment to science, solutions and solidarity.

Since the beginning, WHO has been fighting the pandemic with every ounce of our soul and spirit. We will continue to do that until the end. That’s our commitment to the whole world.

I thank you.

DG World Health Organisation