WHO asks people to avoid large gatherings, continue to wear masks

DailyTimes  |  May 18, 2021

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

NEW YORK – Although coronavirus cases and deaths continue to decline globally for a second consecutive week, the UN health agency chief said that a huge disconnect is mounting between some highly-vaccinated countries, which see the pandemic as largely resolved, while huge waves of infection continue to grip others where shots are scarce.

At a regular press briefing in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists that the pandemic was a long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it’s over everywhere. He pointed to dramatic increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, in places where the coronavirus had previously been contained.

He said that new variants, fragile health systems, relaxed public health measures – and shortages of oxygen, dexamethasone and vaccines – were compounding the problem. But there are solutions, he said, urging people to adhere to physical distancing, continue to wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

He said that even where cases have dropped, genetic sequencing is critical so that variants can be tracked and measures are not eased prematurely. Although, the UN health agency has been responding to the surge in India and other flashpoints, immediate additional funding is required to sustain support in all countries experiencing new waves of cases.

The WHO director-general said that the 2021 response plan was already underfunded, and the vast majority of it is ring fenced by donors for specific countries or activities, which is constraining WHO’s ability to provide an adaptable and scalable response in emerging hotspots. Urgent and flexible funding would allow the UN health agency to scale up support for countries and the ACT Accelerator.

UN CHILDREN’S FUND

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) outlined a 190 million dose shortfall in the UN-backed COVAX vaccine initiative for equitable COVID inoculations. While COVAX has delivered 65 million doses to 124 countries and economies to date, the WHO chief called on manufacturers to publicly commit to sharing their vaccines with COVAX by lifting contractual barriers within days not months.

He pressed manufacturers to give the right of first refusal to COVAX on any additional doses and encouraged them to make deals with companies willing to use their facilities to produce COVID-19 vaccines. “We need to collectively set ambitious goals to at least vaccinate the world’s adult population as quickly as possible,” he underscored.

Although pandemic lockdowns and telecommuting has led to fewer car journeys and road crashes, the WHO chief pointed to a converse problem caused by drivers’ speeding. He said that this has meant the number of deaths had not decreased proportionately. Kicking off UN Road Safety Week, he asked for national and local policy commitments to deliver 30 kilometre per hour speed limits in urban areas and generate local support for low speed measures overall.

Addressing the risk of road traffic deaths is also fundamental to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically those affecting health security, sustainable cities and reducing inequalities among and within countries. And policies that tackle of impact road traffic, and create environments for safe, sustainable and inclusive transport options, also unlock action for protecting the climate and gender equality.

A paradigm shift in how streets are designed can make streets safe, accessible and equitable for all road users – delivering multiple benefits while accelerating action across interlinking UN goals, according to the UN health agency. Approximately 1.35 million people die each year because of road crashes. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set an ambitious target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.

Road traffic crashes cost most countries three per cent of their gross domestic product. More than half of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Some 93 per cent of global road fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.

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