WHO’s Tedros: ‘Don’t abandon the poorest to coronavirus’

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 23-27 March
Mark Lowcock
By Mark Lowcock

United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
By Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

World Health Organization Director-General

Posted on Wednesday, 25 March 2020 09:43
Employees work in Cormart factory as the company steps up production of hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lagos
Employees work in Cormart factory as the company steps up production of hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

The virus is now reaching places where people live in warzones, cannot easily get their hands on clean water and soap, and have no hope of a hospital bed if they fall critically ill.

If wealthy countries with strong health systems are buckling under the pressure of COVID-19 outbreaks, imagine what will happen in countries in the midst of deep humanitarian crises caused by war, natural disasters and climate change.

If we leave coronavirus to spread freely in these places we would be placing millions at high risk, whole regions will be tipped into chaos and the virus will have the opportunity to circle back around the globe.

READ MORE Coronavirus: “We’ve gone from looming threat to looming disaster”

Countries battling the pandemic at home are rightly prioritizing their citizens. But the hard truth is they will be failing to protect their own people if they do not act to help the poorest countries protect themselves against COVID-19.

This virus knows no borders and we are only as strong as the weakest health system.

Across the world people are being told to stay at home, businesses have been forced to close, and people are experiencing restrictions on international travel in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. [x] people worldwide have sadly lost their lives to the virus.

READ MORE Kenya, Ethiopia battle with Coronavirus

These are frightening times. People have legitimate fears they will lose their loved ones, their livelihoods, and their way of life.

While citizens across Europe, the US and other wealthy nations take sensible steps to batten down the hatches and protect the vulnerable in their communities, governments need to act on what’s happening in other parts of the world if they want to stop this pandemic.

The virus is starting to spread across countries with weaker health systems despite efforts by governments and society to hold it back.

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Although older people are the hardest hit, younger people are not spared.

Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalization.

In places where children are malnourished and already suffering from communicable diseases, we should be prepared for that proportion to be larger.

Failing to help the world’s poorest countries to fight COVID-19 would be both cruel and unwise.

Our teams are working round the clock to fight this pandemic. WHO is working with governments and industry to boost the production of personal protective equipment. It has shipped this essential equipment to 68 countries and 1.5 million testing kits to 120 countries.

READ MORE Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango dies of coronavirus

In a matter of weeks, this virus has killed thousands, damaged the global economy and upended countless lives. We need to do everything we can to stay ahead of COVID-19.

So the UN system is joining forces to launch a major humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against the virus in the world’s most vulnerable countries.

This will deliver essential kit such as laboratory equipment to test for the virus and medical equipment to treat people.

It will install handwashing stations in camps and settlements and establish airbridges and hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to move humanitarian workers and supplies to where they are needed most. It will launch public information campaigns on how to stay safe and protect others.

Supporting this plan is in all of our interests.

READ MORE South Africa in lockdown as Coronavirus cases spike

We ask governments to do two things.

First, give the strongest support to this global humanitarian response plan. It will only work if it is properly funded.

Second, sustain funding to existing humanitarian and refugee response plans. To divert funding from them would create an environment in which cholera, measles and meningitis can thrive, in which even more children become malnourished, and in which extremists can take control. It would extend the breeding ground for the coronavirus.

The question many people across the world want answered is how long will this pandemic last? The truth is we do not know at this point. We are still in the early stages of the pandemic.

READ MORE Coronavirus: 5 economies to watch as the impact spreads

But we can say with certainty that the course of the pandemic will be determined by the actions that countries, communities and individuals take.

It’s going to take time, it’s going to take solidarity, it’s going to take coordination, but we can push this virus back.

As we fight it, there can be no half measures.  COVID-19 is threatening the whole of humanity. The whole of humanity must fight back.

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