The World Health Organization held a media briefing on 19 June, to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of World Refugee Day, calls were made to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. At the conference, it was revealed by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus that COVID-19 continues to “gather pace,” and remains a threat.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner forjoined the WHO’s media briefing on 19 June, ahead of World Refugee Day on 20 June. He and Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,WHO Director-General, reiterated calls to protect the world’s most vulnerable people during the pandemic. The World Economic Forum COVID Action Platform reports that: With 80 million refugees and internally displaced people globally, there is a significant population to keep safe. The WHO remains very concerned about the potential for widespread transmission in refugee camps explained Dr Tedros.
Both he and Mr Grandi called for global collaboration and unity in the fight against the pandemic. “The key issue that we’ve been impressing on governments is that refugees, displaced people, people on the move, must be included in national health responses,” explained Grandi. Whatever measures governments are taking for national populations must also include refugees, he added. And, any socio-economic responses and recovery plans must also include displaced people. Guests from Lebanon and Ethiopia also stressed the challenges faced by refugee populations and the agencies and people working to protect them during the pandemic.
The pandemic is accelerating. More than 150 thousand new cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO yesterday – the most in a single day so far. Almost half of those cases were reported from the Americas, with large numbers also being reported from South Asia and the Middle East. The world is in a new and dangerous phase. Many people are understandably fed up with being at home. Countries are understandably eager to open up their societies and economies.
But the virus is still spreading fast, it’s still deadly, and most people are still susceptible. We call on all countries and all people to exercise extreme vigilance. Continue maintaining your distance from others. Stay home if you feel sick. Keep covering your nose and mouth when you cough. Wear a mask when appropriate. Keep cleaning your hands. We continue to call on all countries to focus on the basics: find, isolate, test and care for every case. Trace and quarantine every contact.
REFUGEES: As the pandemic gathers pace, it’s the most vulnerable who will suffer the most. All countries rich and poor have populations who are vulnerable to a higher risk of severe disease and death. Tomorrow is World Refugee Day – an important moment to highlight the risks of COVID-19 for some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Refugees are particularly at risk of COVID-19 because they often have limited access to adequate shelter, water, nutrition, sanitation, and health services. Over 80 per cent of the world’s refugees and nearly all the world’s internally displaced people are hosted in low- and middle-income countries.
WHO is deeply concerned about the very real and present danger of widespread transmission of COVID-19 in refugee camps. Beyond the health threat posed by the virus, COVID-19 is also exposing many refugees to even more severe hardship. A report published today by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement shows that about 70 percent of refugees surveyed in Turkey reported having lost their jobs since the start of the pandemic. We have a shared duty to do everything we can to prevent, detect and respond to the transmission of COVID-19 among refugee populations.
PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES – Public health measures that reduce transmission of COVID-19 require strict and sustained implementation. This is difficult to achieve in refugee camps, where the public health situation is weak. It’s an honour to be here today with my brother Mr Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. WHO’s mission is to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.
Our organizations are a natural fit and every day WHO and UNHCR work to strengthen the collaboration between our two agencies. Last month, our two organizations signed a new agreement to strengthen and advance public health services for the millions of forcibly displaced people around the world. COVID-19 has demonstrated that no one is safe until we’re all safe. Only by putting politics aside and working in true collaboration can we make a difference. We are most vulnerable when we are divided, but with solidarity and cooperation, we will overcome this pandemic, and be better prepared for the crises of the future.
From access to water for personal hygiene to the ongoing financial crisis in Lebanon, the risks and issues are varied and extensive, they explained. Mr Chuol Puok Jock, currently leading COVID-19 response in Gambella region, Ethiopia, and Dr Iman Shankiti, WHO representative in Lebanon, both highlighted the collaboration and multi-agency work that’s currently being undertaken to tackle these issues.
An accelerating pandemic “The pandemic is accelerating. More than 150,000 new cases were reported to the WHO yesterday – the most in a single day so far. “The world is in a new and dangerous phase,” he said. People are tired of being stuck at home and countries want to open up their societies and economies, he explained. But we must continue to focus on the basics, from testing and tracing to maintaining physical distancing and cleaning of hands.