GENEVA, 11 February (IPS) – WHO and UNICEF have a long, deep and very special relationship. None of us can do what we do without the other.
UNICEF’s success is the success of the World Health Organization, and we are proud to be your partner on many issues: Ebola, polio, maternal health, nutrition, infection prevention and control, primary health care – the list is long.
Our partnership has never been more important than it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world in ways we never could have imagined when it started a little over a year ago.
It is alarming to believe that on this day 12 months ago, the WHO was notified of more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19. Yesterday, 3,000 cases were reported every 15 minutes. The pandemic has made a mirror of our world. He showed humanity at its best and its worst.
It exposed and exploited fault lines, inequality, injustice and contradictions in our world, within and between countries. The pandemic has also become a children’s emergency, with children bearing its direct and indirect consequences.
Children may be less at risk of serious illness and death from the coronavirus, but they have suffered many of the most serious social and economic consequences, and will bear a significant burden of the long-term repercussions.
Many children have missed months of school and are at greater risk of violence. Girls are especially at risk in places where they may never return to school, as they near the age to go to work or get married.
From the start, UNICEF has been and will remain an indispensable partner in ensuring that children are a primary consideration in the global response to COVID-19.
Together, we share, empower and connect with communities about the risks of COVID-19 and how to stay safe; We have developed joint guidelines for preventing and controlling COVID-19 in schools;
We have supported health workers by improving infection prevention and control, and we have supported them to provide better psychological and social care and support to patients, their families, and their communities; We have purchased and delivered essential supplies;
We have provided the combined analyzes that are fundamental to an effective response to the epidemic; We have supported countries to maintain basic health services, including in humanitarian settings;
And with access to the COVID-19 Tool Accelerator and COVAX, we are ready for the largest vaccination campaign in history. Vaccines are an injection into the arm that we all need, literally and figuratively.
But we also must remember that vaccines will complement, not replace, proven public health measures that countries around the world have used successfully to prevent and contain widespread transmission.
As governments, corporations and individuals, we all have a role to play in stopping this pandemic with the tools we have. The pandemic will subside, but the inequalities that preceded it will remain.
There is no vaccine for climate change, poverty or malnutrition. No single agency can meet any of these challenges. Let me identify three areas in which the partnership between WHO and UNICEF, bilaterally and through the Global Plan of Action on Health and Well-Being for All, must become deeper and stronger as we work together to support countries to respond, recover and rebuild.
First, as we support countries to respond to the pandemic, we must ensure that all people and societies have equal access to vaccines, diagnostics and life-saving treatments – rich and poor, urban and rural, citizens and refugees.
A year ago we were defenseless against this virus. Now we can detect it with rapid diagnostic tests, and we can treat it with dexamethasone and oxygen, and we can prevent it with vaccines. The urgency, ambition, and resources with which vaccines were developed must match the same urgency, ambition and resources to distribute them equitably.
UNICEF has played a vital role in purchasing vaccines and preparing countries to deploy them quickly once they are received. Together, we’ve supported 124 countries to conduct vaccination readiness assessments.
But we face big challenges. More than 130 million doses of the vaccine have now been released globally, but 75% of them were in just ten countries, accounting for 60% of global GDP.
Meanwhile, nearly 130 countries, home to 2.5 billion people, have yet to provide a single dose. Many of these countries are also struggling to secure resources for testing, personal protective equipment, oxygen, and medicines.
I issued a call to action to ensure that by World Health Day on April 7th, health workers will be vaccinated in all countries. UNICEF can play a major role in meeting this challenge. As a trusted advocate, you can use your voice and community experience to build acceptance of vaccines;
Deploy your unmatched logistics and supply capabilities to get vaccines to the last mile; You can negotiate the best deals for the communities you serve; And you can mobilize your own National Committee networks to fuel this historic effort to save lives and livelihoods.
Second, as we support countries to recover from the epidemic, we must support them to maintain basic health services, including routine childhood immunization. The epidemic has shown that we can only confront the major crises of our time by following the approach of the whole government and society at large.
In the same way, child development challenges can only be addressed through a multisectoral approach that addresses their access to services, their mental health and well-being, their nutrition, their risk factors for developing non-communicable diseases later in life, and their education. The results, their employment opportunities, and their need to be protected from violence.
And third, as we support countries to rebuild from the pandemic, we must invest in primary health care. The pandemic has given us a brutal reminder of the importance of primary health care, as the eyes and ears of every health system, and the foundation of universal health coverage.
In the end, our fight is not against a single virus. Our fight against the inequalities that leave children in some countries vulnerable to deadly diseases that are easily preventable in others; Our fight is against the inequalities that mean the death of women and their babies in childbirth in some countries due to complications that are easily preventable in others;
Our battle is to ensure that health is no longer a commodity or luxury, but rather a fundamental human right, and the foundation for a safer, fair and sustainable world that we all want.
History will not only judge us by how we ended the COVID-19 pandemic, but by what we learned, what we changed, and the future we left for our children.
* Director-General of the World Health Organization in his opening speech to the UNICEF Executive Board
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service