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‘Urgency to act’ for sustainable development, greater than ever as pandemic continues

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As COVID-19 upends lives and livelihoods across the planet, the UN on Monday held a wide-ranging policy discussion stressing a range of multilateral solutions to ease the pandemic, while also getting back on track towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Our commitment to achieving the SDGs has not changed, but the urgency to act has”, said Mona Juul, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), as discussion over the topic, “Joining Forces: Effective Policy Solutions for Covid-19 Response”, got underway online.

She maintained that while working towards breakthroughs that will help the world overcome the health emergency, including a vaccine, “we are only beginning to realize the true scale of the social and economic crisis that lies ahead of us”.

Nearly half the global workforce is in immediate danger of being unemployed, while other global goals are being reversed, such as the increase in global poverty for the first time since 1998, with some regions slipping back to levels last seen 30 years ago.  

Malaria mortality levels threaten to revert to those of 20 years ago and violence against women and girls “has become a shadow pandemic, with the number of victims increasing to the hundreds of millions worldwide’, she bemoaned. 

“These are incomprehensible setbacks to our hard-won development gains”, stressed the ECOSOC chief, but “we must ask ourselves: how can we find solid footing in the new evolving normal?”

‘Build back better’

And although this virus impacts everyone, it has not been an equalizer, but instead has exposed and compounded inequalities in societies.
“These disparities should be our catalyst, and our call to build back better”, she said, maintaining that national responses be shaped by human rights and that country-specific global action take special situations into account.

Ms. Juul maintained that the pandemic has “put a spotlight on the need to strengthen multilateral cooperation, governance, and above, all global solidarity”. 

Noting that “we are currently tossing and turning through dangerous waters”, the ECOSOC president pointed to the SDGs as “our chart to see us through the storm”.

“Now is truly the time to fulfil our promise of leaving no one behind”, she concluded.

SDGs ‘clear compass’ 

Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed told the meeting that lives and livelihoods everywhere depend on the UN’s ability to support Governments in tackling this “unprecedented health, humanitarian and socio-economic crisis”.

Calling the SDGs “a clear compass” to direct us, she cited the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, as the world’s chart.

“We will need to keep in mind dual imperatives: to respond urgently to stem the impact of the pandemic, while helping Governments and people respond in a way that recovers better, more resilient, future”, flagged the deputy UN chief.

And while we are all in this together, she underscored the “immediate priority” of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable countries and communities who risk being left behind.

When allocating resources close attention will be paid to the needs of conflict- and disaster-affected countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, according to Ms. Mohammed.

Emerging stronger

Turning to the UN’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to catalyze joint action on the ground for the most vulnerable countries and communities, Ms. Mohammed spelled out: “We estimated billions and are receiving millions”.

In closing, she offered the UN’s “full commitment” in supporting Governments and ensuring that “lives are saved, livelihoods are restored, financial resources are mobilized, and that the global economy and the people we serve can emerge stronger from this crisis”.

Other key voices

Describing the coronavirus pandemic as “a human crisis of historic magnitude”, Liu Zhenmin, who heads up the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) said it had “destabilized global economic growth” and led the world into a major global recession that threatens all the SDGs.

The DESA chief stressed the need to build on lessons learned throughout the crisis to accelerate progress during the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development” and to turn the tide against inequality. 

The Director of the Internatioal Labour Organztion (ILO), Guy Ryder, maintained that an effective response to COVID19, which protects the most vulnerable first, requires global solidarity and multilateral action, with international coordination on health, social and economic policy. 

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet maintained that human rights were at the core of the COVID-19 crisis and encouraged vocal support to step up efforts to leave no one behind. 

Qu Dongyu, Head of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) emphasized the impact of that the pandemic is having on food security and nutrition, pushing for effective policy solutions for the global pandemic response.

The Executive Secretary for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, encouraged a coordinated and coherent global response to the adverse social, economic and financial impact of the pandemic.

And Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also weighed into the discussion: “There can be no going back to business as usual”, he spelled out. 

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Human Rights

Millions in Yemen ‘a step away from starvation’

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Mobile health clinics are distributing nutritional supplements to children in Yemen. WFP/Saleh Bin Haiyan

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.

Thanking the world leaders, he said that Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan is “among the most well-funded”, with 98 per cent of the pledges made at an event in March fulfilled.

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.

Three requests

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”.

Children robbed

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.

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Africa Today

South Sudan ‘determined to never go back to war’

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Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, Vice-President of the Republic of South Sudan, addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

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.”

Prioritize nation-building

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.”

Glass ‘half-empty’

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.

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Health & Wellness

WHO backs Regeneron COVID-19 drug cocktail – with equal access, price cut

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A technician carries out an experiment in the Regeneron laboratory. © Regeneron

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. 

‘Meaningful’ benefit 

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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