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Countries face ‘critical moment’ in COVID response

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A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a patient at a hospital in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

With strong leadership and comprehensive strategies it’s never too late for countries to change the trendlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite passing the tragic milestone of one million deaths this week amid regional surges in infections, said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.

To be sure, countries are also seeing some two million new COVID-19 cases each week, WHO Executive Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at his latest press briefing in Geneva.

Varying country contexts

Describing four varying national situations, he said those countries that jumped on the virus quickly have avoided large outbreaks.  Others had large outbreaks but were able to bring them under control and continue to suppress the virus.

Some economies that had controlled an initial outbreak, and subsequently eased restrictions, have seen an increase in cases, he said.  And there are still other countries that are in the intense phase of transmission.

Turning the tide

“It is never too late to turn the tide”, he assured, stressing that in every region, countries have developed a collective blueprint for suppressing the virus – and saved both lives and livelihoods.

For its part, WHO will continue to support national action plans through its regional and national country offices. 

“This is a critical moment in the outbreak response”, he said, urging leaders to strengthen their response by putting in place targeted measures to suppress the spread and ensuring that health systems and workers are protected.

Solidary equals speed

“For us all, the fastest way for us to get through this is to act together”, he stressed.  He issued a call to “keep doing the basics” of physical distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, and coughing and sneezing safely away from others.  It is also important to avoid crowds and keep windows and doors open when it is not possible to meet friends or family outside.

Tedros welcomed the $1 billion in new funding announced for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a collaboration to speed the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines.

Recalling that WHO approved its first antigen-based rapid diagnostic test for Emergency Use Listing, he said “these tests are simple”, providing reliable results in 15-30 minutes – rather than hours or days – at lower prices.

Expressions of interest

He also announced that WHO published today a call for expressions of interest by manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines – to apply for approval for prequalification and/or Emergency Use Listing. 

“Sharing finite resources – from tests to therapeutics to vaccines – is not charity”, he clarified.  “It is the smart play for all countries, as it will ensure that they can protect those at most risk.”

US President and COVID-19

Tedros began the press conference, wishing both President Trump and the First Lady of the United States, “a full and swift recovery. Our prayers are with them”, he said.

Responding to a journalist’s question about whether the President’s “disregard” for mask-wearing made it inevitable that he would contract COVID-19, WHO Emergencies Executive Director, Dr. Mike Ryan, said that the agency does not comment on the risk management measures or behaviour of any individual.

“We don’t know what risk management measures were in place”, he said, especially for someone as prominent as a president.  “What we will reiterate, is that each and every individual and each and every citizen should be guided by the national guidance in their country.”

We all know “the combination of different measures that reduce risk”, said Dr. Ryan, “and we know these reduce risk; washing your hands, staying a safe distance from other individuals, avoiding crowded spaces, wearing a mask…and doing all of that to protect yourself and others, is the best way to protect society. Our advice doesn’t change.”

“We are a community, and we will get through this together”, he added.

WHO probe of DR Congo abuse allegations

Tedros also addressed disturbing news from the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse by people identifying themselves as working for WHO.

“To be very clear, we are outraged,” he said.  “The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible.”

WHO will not tolerate such behaviour from its staff, contractors or partners, he said, emphatic that anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.

Tedros said he has initiated an investigation into the charges, as well as broader protection issues in health emergency response settings.

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Environment

Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions

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forest

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.

Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”

The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.

Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”

Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”

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Tech News

Standards & Digital Transformation – Good Governance in a Digital Age

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In celebration of World Standards Day 2021, celebrated on 14 October every year, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is pleased to announce the launch of a brochure, “Standards and Digital Transformation: Good Governance in the Digital Age”.

In the spirit of this year’s World Standards Day theme “Shared Vision for a Better World”, the brochure provides insights into the key drivers of the digital transformation and its implications for sustainable development, particularly people, prosperity and planet. Noting the rapid pace of change of the digital transformation, with the COVID-19 pandemic serving as an unanticipated accelerator, the brochure highlights the role of standards in digital transformation governance. It further considers the principles necessary for guiding the collaborative development of standards in the digital technology landscape to ensure that the technologies remain human-centered and aligned to the goals of sustainability.

This year’s World Standards Day theme highlights the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) representing a shared vision for peace and prosperity, for people and planet. Every SDG is a call for action, but we can only get there if we work together, and international standards offer practical solutions we can all stand behind.

This brochure is a summary of a publication set to be released in November 2021.

Download it here.

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Human Rights

UN: Paraguay violated indigenous rights

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An indigenous community in Paraguay wait to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. WHO/PAHO

Paraguay’s failure to prevent the toxic contamination of indigenous people’s traditional lands by commercial farming violates their rights and their sense of “home”, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a landmark ruling on Wednesday. 

The Committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts from across the world, monitors countries’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

Lands represent ‘home’ 

The decision on Paraguay (in Spanish) marked the first time it has affirmed that for indigenous people, “home” should be understood in the context of their special relationship with their territories, including their livestock, crops and way of life.  

“For indigenous peoples, their lands represent their home, culture and community. Serious environmental damages have severe impacts on indigenous people’s family life, tradition, identity and even lead to the disappearance of their community. It dramatically harms the existence of the culture of the group as a whole,” said Committee member Hélène Tigroudja. 

The decision stems from a complaint filed more than a decade ago on behalf of some 201 Ava Guarani people of the Campo Agua’e indigenous community, located in Curuguaty district in eastern Paraguay. 

The area where they live is surrounded by large commercial farms which produce genetically modified soybeans through fumigation, a process which involves the use of banned pesticides. 

Traditional life affected 

Fumigation occurred continuously for more than 10 years and affected the indigenous community’s whole way of life, including killing livestock, contaminating waterways and harming people’s health. 

The damage also had severe intangible repercussions, according to the UN committee.  The disappearance of natural resources needed for hunting, fishing and foraging resulted in the loss of traditional knowledge.  For example, ceremonial baptisms no longer take place as necessary materials no longer exist. 

“By halting such ceremonies, children are denied a rite crucial to strengthening their cultural identity,” the Committee said.  “Most alarmingly, the indigenous community structure is being eroded and disintegrated as families are forced to leave their land.” 

Toxic exposure 

The indigenous community brought the case to the Human Rights Committee after a lengthy and unsatisfactory administrative and judicial process in Paraguay’s courts. 

“More than 12 years after the victims filed their criminal complaint regarding the fumigation with toxic agrochemicals, to which they have continued to be exposed throughout this period, the investigations have not progressed in any meaningful way and the State party has not justified the delay,” the Committee said in its decision. 

Recommendations, reparations 

Members found Paraguay did not adequately monitor the fumigation and failed to prevent contamination, adding “this failure in its duty to provide protection made it possible for the large-scale, illegal fumigation to continue for many years, destroying all components of the indigenous people’s family life and home.”  

The Committee recommended that Paraguay complete the criminal and administrative proceedings against all parties responsible and make full reparation to the victims. 

The authorities are also urged to take all necessary measures, in close consultation with the indigenous community, to repair the environmental damage, and to work to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future. 

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