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COVID-19 cases worldwide hit 12 million

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“Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit”, agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists, adding that there is still a lot of work to be done.

“From countries where there is exponential growth, to places that are loosening restrictions and now starting to see cases rise. We need leadership, community participation and collective solidarity. Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around”, he said.

Tedros cited examples from across the globe which show that even where the outbreak has been intense, it can still be brought under control.

“And some of these examples are Italy, Spain and South Korea, and even in Dharavi – a densely packed area in the megacity of Mumbai – a strong focus on community engagement and the basics of testing, tracing, isolating and treating all those that are sick is key to breaking the chains of transmission and suppressing the virus”, he said.

‘Always a risk’

WHO has consistently advised countries coming out of lockdowns to remain vigilant.

Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, said that advice includes opening up slowly and in phases, waiting between each stage, “and to accept the fact that in our current situation, it is very unlikely that we can eradicate or eliminate this virus.”

He pointed out that even in countries that have achieved zero cases of COVID-19, or near zero cases, the disease has resurfaced.

“There is always a risk: either from within, or from bringing disease back in. And therefore, it is a given that there is always a risk of further cases”, he said.

Support for smokers

The world’s first digital health worker is ready to help millions of people quit smoking and reduce the risk of being infected by COVID-19.

“Florence” is the computer-generated face of the Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco, announced on Friday by WHO and partners.

Using Artificial Intelligence, she will help smokers develop personalized plans to quit tobacco, while also dispelling myths around COVID-19 and smoking.

Smokers are at higher risk of COVID-19 because they are constantly putting their hands to their mouths.

If infected, they are more likely to develop a severe case of the disease, according to Dr. Ruediger Krech, Director of WHO’s Department of Ethics and Social Determinants of Health.

“That’s why, at the moment, we know that 680 million people want to quit smoking, and we know that 400 million will try to stop smoking: and that’s the good news”, he said.

“With today’s initiative, we hope that we will be successful in really helping 20 million to succeed in this.”

Florence is available 24/7 via video stream or text. She was created with technology developed by Soul Machines, a company based in the United States and New Zealand, with support from Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.

The initiative will be launched initially in Jordan, with global roll-out scheduled over the coming months.

Panel on pandemic response established

An Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) has been established to evaluate the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO Member States meeting in May, adopted a landmark resolution that called on the UN agency to initiate an independent and comprehensive evaluation of lessons learned from the international health response to the crisis.

The IPPR will be led by two co-chairs: Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and a past head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Operating independently, they will choose other members of the panel, whose size has yet to be determined.

The co-chairs will also select members of an independent secretariat that will support the panel.

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Over 500,000 people have been inoculated against COVID-19 in Moscow

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The number of people who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Moscow has reached half a million, and over 500,000 of them have already received their first jab. Every day between 12,000 and 20,000 residents of the city sign up for vaccination.

Vaccines are being administered in 100 vaccination points in city polyclinics and 20 popular public places, where mobile teams have been deployed. The list of categories of citizens entitled to vaccination is constantly expanding and the city’s vaccination campaign is picking up pace.

The list of categories of citizens prioritized for vaccination also includes Muscovites over the age of 60 years old (who form the largest risk group and are most vulnerable to COVID-19). More than 9,000 residents of 33 retirement homes have already been vaccinated. In addition, vaccination is recommended for people with chronic diseases who need to stay at home, as well as college and university students over 18 years of age.

A convenient online vaccination appointments system has been set up specially for Muscovites in the mos.ru portal. It can be accessed by going to ‘Doctor’s Appointment’ in the list of services and selecting ‘Vaccination Against COVID-19’.

In addition, vaccine appointments can be made via the My Moscow mobile app, the Moscow Gosuslugi government services website and the emais.info medical services portal, as well as by calling a vaccination center. The vaccine is administered in two doses, with appointments for the second injection being made automatically.

Many large employers are requesting on-site vaccination of their staff, and this network will be gradually expanded. Naturally, the throughput capacity of such organizations and, most importantly, the employers’ wishes are being taken into account.

Detailed information on the vaccination program has also been posted in the portal’s special project.

The Sputnik V vaccine consists of two components requiring two injections, and provides a reliable immune response. Volunteers will first be injected with the first component of the vaccine, with a second vaccination following 21 days later. Only the first appointment needs to be booked, as the doctor will arrange the patient’s second visit on the day of their first vaccination. To ensure that people do not forget about their re-vaccination, they will receive an SMS message the day before it, reminding them of the date, time and clinic they need to attend.

The vaccination process takes at least an hour, including a 10-minute examination by a doctor before the vaccination and 15 minutes spent preparing the vaccine, which is stored in frozen state (with five doses in one vial) and thawed for five patients at once when they have been examined. Post-vaccination observation and examination take a further 30 minutes. Each patient receives a certificate recording the two injections and confirming that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The vaccine was produced using a biotechnological process based on the most modern technological platform created by Russian scientists. It is safe because it does not contain the coronavirus. It is based on special structures (carrier vectors) created in the laboratory that contain only a part of the virus gene. Upon encountering the vaccine, the human immune system produces protective antibodies.

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Belarus human rights situation deteriorating further

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Large crowds have demonstrated their anger at the results of the presidential election in Belarus. Photo: Kseniya Halubovich

A “systematic crackdown” against dissent in Belarus is continuing, months since the country’s disputed presidential election last year, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has told the Human Rights Council.

In comments to the Geneva forum on Thursday, the High Commissioner for Human Rights insisted that curbs on demonstrators had got worse since last August’s poll returned President Alexander Lukashenko to office.

Those protests had led to “mass arbitrary arrests and detentions” of largely peaceful demonstrators, along with “hundreds of allegations of torture and ill-treatment”, Ms. Bachelet said, before noting that “not one of the hundreds of complaints for acts of torture and ill-treatment” had been investigated.

The High Commissioner highlighted concerns about Government proposals which would reportedly “enable harsher punishments” for those taking part in peaceful demonstrations from now on.

To date, nearly 250 people have received prison sentences on allegedly politically-motivated charges context of the 2020 presidential election, Ms. Bachelet said.

‘Unprecedented’ human rights crisis

The OHCHR report “covers serious violations” of rights between 1 May and 20 December last year. “The events that unfolded before and immediately after the election have led to a human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country”, added Ms. Bachelet.

All of the violations detailed “committed with impunity, created an atmosphere of fear”, she said, noting the further deterioration since December.

She said journalists were being increasingly targeted, “and human rights defenders both institutionally and individually. Just last week, large-scale searches of human rights defenders, journalists, and organizations such as the Belarusian Association of Journalists and Viasna (A Minsk-based human rights centre) were conducted, reportedly in connection with criminal investigations for ‘mass disorder’”.

Release innocent protesters

She told the Council it was “essential for the future of the country that respect for human rights, and the broadest possible civic space, be established. All those who have been detained for peacefully exercising their rights should be released.”

The rights chief called for “thorough, effective, credible and transparent investigations” into all the allegations of serious violations, with perpetrators being brought to justice, as well as an “immediate end” to the Government policy of harassment and intimidation of civil society and media workers.

“I further recommend comprehensive reform of the national legal framework”, she concluded. “Our report includes specific recommendations, which address key systemic issues, including with respect to fair trials, due process and the independence of the judiciary.”

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Health & Wellness

Natalia Vodianova joins UNFPA to tackle stigma and advance women’s health

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Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova has been appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA. Photo: UNFPA

The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, on Wednesday appointed supermodel, philanthropist, and impact investor Natalia Vodianova as its newest Goodwill Ambassador, in an effort to empower women and girls, including fighting stigma surrounding menstruation.

“For too long, society’s approach to menstruation and women’s health has been defined by taboo and stigma”, said Ms. Vodianova, stressing that the situation “has undermined the most basic needs and rights of women.”

In her new role with UNFPA, officially known as the UN Population Fund, Ms. Vodianova will seek to help culturally redefine menstruation, as a normal bodily function.

On any given day, more than 800 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 are actively menstruating. In many countries, taboos surrounding the cycle leaves girls vulnerable and can even be life-threatening, says UNFPA, as they are excluded from public life, denied opportunities, sanitation and basic health needs.

Major mission

The agency said in a press release, that the issue has been starved of the attention it deserves, but in recent years that has started to change, and “achieving this, is central to UNFPA’s mandate”.

“It’s a tragic irony that something as universal as menstruation can make girls feel so isolated…We all have a role to play in breaking the taboos around menstruation”, said UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, underscoring the significance of spotlighting the damage caused.

She added that the agency “is pleased to partner with such a powerful and committed advocate. Societies prosper when girls are confident, empowered and making their own decisions!”

Building on past momentum

Over the past three years, Ms. Vodianova has teamed up with UNFPA to launch a series of “Let’s Talk” events worldwide, which have mobilised policy makers, civil society and the private sector to help tackle shame, exclusion and discrimination, faced routinely by millions of women and girls.

Leaders from various sectors such as fashion, politics, sport, technology and media have also gathered in Turkey, Kenya, Switzerland, Belarus and India to advance women’s health.

Raised in poverty by a single mother in Russia, along with caring for a half-sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, Ms.Vodianova is a passionate advocate for human rights, including reproductive rights and the rights of people living with disabilities, UNFPA noted.

The agency said it was looking forward to working with her in her role as a bridge builder across the fashion and technology industries, where she’s an influential international voice, to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

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