Ministers and senior government officials from ASEAN Member States convened today to discuss strategies for accelerating human capital development in the region through integrated policy investments and innovative policy reforms.
ASEAN countries have succeeded in achieving high levels of economic growth and have substantially reduced poverty over the last 20 years. However, on average, education, skills development, and health indicators are below expectations given ASEAN’s income levels, and there are wide disparities in life expectancy, job productivity, and education quality across the region. Further investment in its people, particularly children and young people, remains a key challenge.
Organized by Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the World Bank and UNICEF, the ASEAN High Level Meeting on Human Capital Development is designed to facilitate dialogue among member states to share successful policy frameworks, and help identify new approaches to human capital development and move toward a set of common, yet context-adapted, policy directions.
“Our region is committed to developing concrete actions to ensure that we have a future-ready and competitive workforce for the global digital economy,” said Thosaporn Srisumphand, Secretary General of NESDC. “It is a priority for us to design effective public policies and government programs that put people at the center of development.”
The World Bank’s global Human Capital Project is an accelerated effort to assess the progress countries around the world, including those in ASEAN, have made in building human capital. It serves as the basis for strategic support to countries that want to invest more effectively in its people. According to the World Bank, children born in the ASEAN region today are expected to, on average, achieve about 59% of their full productivity potential compared to children born in areas with high performing education and health systems.
“Prioritizing human capital development means putting people at the center of investments, policies, and programs,” said Mara Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. “By working towards these goals, ASEAN countries can directly address gaps and provide a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future for all its people.”
At the meeting, Ministry officials for Health and Education discussed how closely linked policies and investments produce tangible improvements in human capital outcomes.
The issue of malnutrition was discussed during the meeting, as countries highlighted examples of progress and challenges around policy implementation. In ASEAN, an estimated 5 million children suffer from wasting and one in four children are stunted in growth because of chronic undernutrition. Ministers and officials shared experiences and challenges about program design and successful implementation of initiatives to end all forms of malnutrition.
“It is important for all countries to take the ASEAN Leaders’ Declaration on Ending all Forms of Malnutrition to heart. The region is now facing a double burden of malnutrition. It is home to 63.7 million undernourished people and has the fastest growing prevalence of childhood obesity in the world, both will negatively impact human capital and economic development,” stated UNICEF Regional Director, Karin Hulshof.
Representatives from Ministries of Planning and Ministries of Labor spoke about concrete steps that will be needed to prepare next generations for the changing nature of jobs, and how the ASEAN region can seize opportunities created by a fast-growing digital era by preparing a future-ready workforce. Investments in reskilling and upgrading of knowledge for young people of today for the work place of tomorrow are necessary especially for developing countries where human capital development gaps remain wide.
At the meeting’s conclusion, participating ASEAN ministers and officials agreed to enhance integrated policy investments in the different sectors, including healthcare, quality education, life-long learning, and skills development, throughout a human life cycle.
Millions in Yemen ‘a step away from starvation’
The crisis in Yemen, now in its seventh year of war, continues unabated, with thousands of people displaced and millions “a step away from starvation”, the UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator said on Wednesday during a high-level side event on the margins of the 76th General Assembly.
“The country’s economy has reached new depths of collapse, and a third wave of the pandemic is threatening to crash the country’s already fragile health-care system”, Humanitarian Affairs chief Martin Griffiths told world leaders at the meeting: Yemen: Responding to the crises within the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
Underscoring that the most vulnerable always “bear the highest cost” of the crisis, he said that females were more likely to be hungry, sick or exposed to gender-based violence and, with little access to essential services, millions of internally displaced people face “a daily struggle to survive”.
Cause for hope
In a positive development, the UN official credited the international community for stepping up support to the country’s humanitarian aid operation.
With over $2 billion received, the UN and its partners were able to “prevent famine and pull people back from the brink of despair”, delivering assistance to “every single one of the country’s 333 districts”.
‘Far from done’
Despite these important achievements, Mr. Griffiths acknowledged that the work there is “far from done”, as many sectors still face “alarming funding gaps” and humanitarians are working with less than one-fifth of the money needed to provide health care, sanitation, and shelter.
“Without additional funding, these and other forms of critical life-saving support – including food assistance – will have to be reduced in the coming weeks and months”, he warned.
The UN relief chief asked global leaders to continue generously supporting Yemen’s humanitarian operation; respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians; and address the root drivers of the crisis, including restrictions on imports, which elevate the prices of essential goods.
He urged them to do “everything in our collective power to stop this war”, saying, “at the end of the day, peace is what will provide Yemenis the most sustainable form of relief”.
The war has robbed too many of Yemen’s children of safety, education and opportunities.
“Each day, the violence and destruction wreak havoc on the lives of children and their families”, Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told the meeting.
She painted a grim picture of 1.7 million displaced youth, 11.3 million youngsters depending on humanitarian assistance to survive and 2.3 million under-five “acutely malnourished” – nearly 400,000 of whom are at “imminent risk of death”.
“Being a child in Yemen means you have probably either experienced or witnessed horrific violence that no child should ever face”, said the UNICEF chief.
“Quite simply, Yemen is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a child”.
Millions ‘marching towards starvation’
In his address, World Food Programme (WFP) chief David Beasley said that in a nation of 30 million people, food rations are needed by 12.9 million; while 3.3 million children and women need special nutrition, together with 1.6 million school children.
“We’re literally looking at 16 million people marching towards starvation”, he said.
With one thousand people a week dying from a lack of food and nutrition, the senior WFP official warned that if $800 million is not received in the next six months, the need to cut rations could lead to the death of 400,000 children under the age of five next year.
“We have a moral, obligation, to speak out and step up”, he stated, appealing to the world leaders to “put the pressure on all parties…to end this conflict”.
“These are our children; these are our brothers and sisters we need the donors to step up immediately otherwise children are going to die. Let’s not let them down. Let’s do what we need to do”, concluded Mr. Beasley.
South Sudan ‘determined to never go back to war’
South Sudan is “ready to turn a new page” towards greater peace, development and prosperity, Vice-President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior said in her speech in the UN General Assembly on Friday.
A decade after gaining independence from Sudan, the country remains “on a path of nation-building” and is working to implement a 2018 revitalized peace deal which led to the formation of a unity government last year.
“I want to assure our friends and partners that we are determined to never go back to war,” said Ms. De Mabior.
“We must replace the destruction of war with the productive use of our vast natural resources and national assets for the good of our people.”
The Vice-President recalled that when South Sudan became independent, the international community pledged to build capacity in nation-building, establishing a UN mission in the country, UNMISS, to support this process.
“However, after the outbreak of the war, that vision was abandoned, and priority was placed on protecting civilians and providing humanitarian assistance. As a result, support for capacity building of the State was terminated,” she said.
Ms. De Mabior stressed that supporting a State’s ability to govern responsibly and effectively is essential. It is also necessary to guard against what she called “the unintended consequences of dependency on humanitarian assistance.”
Given improvements in peace and security, she said it was now time to transition from emergency towards sustainable development.
“It is a painful and shameful situation for a country endowed with vast fertile land to be regarded as poor,” she added.
“We must ensure peace and security in the country and double our efforts to support our people who want to return, and are returning, to their areas of origin, for them to participate fully in nation-building and contribute to building food security in the country.”
Support youth and women
South Sudan is also “a youthful country”, and the Vice-President called for continued efforts to develop the skills of its youth and women “to provide an alternative to picking up the gun again and engaging in destructive behavior.”
Encouraging developments have included joint efforts by the national security forces and their UNMISS counterparts to promote rural peace and security, while the Government is set to unveil a national youth service programme.
“To fulfill the vision of our liberation struggle, we must use our oil revenues to fuel economic growth through investment in agriculture,” she said.
“We will invest in infrastructure to connect our rural communities to the markets. We need the public and private sectors, including foreign investors, to join hands in turning South Sudan’s potential wealth into a reality.”
Ms. De Mabior reported progress in implementing aspects of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, particularly in the creation of state and national bodies and public financial management reforms
However, “the glass remains half-empty” in implementing a permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements, she said, noting the urgency for a unified army.
“The security sector reform is the most challenging part of the Agreement as it contains elements at the center of the violent conflicts in the country,” she said, calling for continued dialogue.
“Building sustainable peace requires inclusivity, collective investment, determination, diligence, and patience.”
Meanwhile, relations with Sudan have also improved, though outstanding issues remain over the oil-rich Abyei border area.
Ms. De Mabior stressed her country is determined to learn from the past.
“We must make the Revitalized Peace Agreement succeed, and we can only do that with the support of our regional and international partners. Simply stated, South Sudan desires and is ready to turn a new page,” she said.
WHO backs Regeneron COVID-19 drug cocktail – with equal access, price cut
The Regeneron antibody drug cocktail – casirivimab and imdevimab – has been added to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of treatments for COVID-19 patients, the UN agency said on Friday, before underscoring the need for lower prices and equitable distribution.
“This is a major breakthrough in the care of COVID-19 patients”, said Dr. Janet Diaz, WHO head of clinical care. “This is our first recommendation for a therapeutic for those patients with mild, moderate disease,” she said, because it reduces “the need for hospitalisation if they are at high risk”.
Effective ‘reduction in mortality’
WHO’s conditional recommendations are for use of the drug combination on patients who are not severely ill, but at high risk of being admitted to hospital with COVID-19, or those with severe cases of the disease and no existing antibodies.
“Giving them this additional antibody seems to show an effect. And what effect is that? A reduction in mortality” Dr. Diaz told a briefing in Geneva.
The antibody therapy was granted emergency use authorization in the United States November last year after it was used to treat former President Donald Trump when he was admitted to hospital with the virus. The United Kingdom has also approved Regeneron, while it is under review in Europe.
The WHO recommendations were largely based on data from a British study of 9,000 patients in June which found that the therapy reduced deaths in hospitalised patients whose own immune systems had failed to produce a response.
“We are taking the information (from the UK study) and generalizing it to other persons,” said Dr. Diaz. “We saw there was a benefit we thought was meaningful.”
The treatment has been on the market for decades to treat many other diseases, including cancers. It is based on a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies which mimic natural antibodies produced by the human body to fight off infections.
Equity, price cut call
Swiss drugmaker Roche, has been working in partnership with Regeneron, which holds the patent, to produce the antibody treatment.
Dr. Diaz urged Regeneron to lower the drug’s price and work on equitable distribution worldwide: “We know that the life-saving benefits and the benefits for patients with COVID-19 is significant and requires action.”
She added that WHO-hosted health agency UNITAID, has been negotiating directly with Roche for lower prices and equitable distribution across all parts of the world, “including low and middle-income countries”.
WHO has also been in discussions with the company for a donation and distribution of the drug through UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, following an allocation criteria set by the health agency. “We are working together with the company so we can address these very important issues so we can have equitable access” she said.
Call to manufacturers
In a statement, WHO said in parallel it had “launched a call to manufacturers who may wish to submit their products for pre-qualification, which would allow for a ramping-up of production and therefore greater availability of the treatment and expanded access.
ACT-A partners are also working with WHO on an equitable access framework for recommended COVID-19 therapeutics”. On that subject, Dr Diaz added that “there are bottlenecks and we are aware of those.
WHO has launched the pre-qualification expression of interest call so that the manufacturing companies can start to submit their dossiers to WHO”.
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