Rolando Gómez of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of Unitaid, the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the World Food Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Affordable HIV treatments to generate over $7 billion USD in savings by 2030
Hervé Verhoosel, for Unitaid, said the global health agency had announced new estimates, projecting $7 billion USD in savings to health systems by 2030. This was due to rapid and widescale implementation of a ground-breaking treatment for HIV, dolutegravir (DTG). The drug, used by over 22 million people in 110 low- and middle-income countries, was approved for use in the first high-income country in 2013. Typically, introduction of new medicines was a complex and lengthy process, taking up to ten years. But this time with the work of united and partners, DTG arrived in low- and middle-income countries just three years after its registration in the United States. Unitaid’s support for voluntary licensing helped secure an agreement less than one year after DTG received regulatory approval, opening the door to generic manufacturing of the drug. Mr. Verhoosel said Unitaid funded clinical trials to expand the safe use of the drug among the most at-risk populations of people with HIV. It also accelerated the introduction of DTG to enable rapid access, drive demand and develop new markets. Today, there were 16 generic manufacturers of DTG-based HIV treatments. Medicines were available for less than $50 USD per person per year, significantly lower than the introduction price of US$75. The $7 billion USD in savings was the result of nearly US$100 million in early investment from Unitaid to address obstacles including high prices, regulatory demand, and supply chain bottlenecks. Unitaid’s work over the next five years would advance life-saving solutions to some of the most pressing health challenges facing people in low- and middle-income countries. The Investment Case outlined the need for US$1.5 billion in funding to support Unitaid’s next five years of work.
High-level Pledging Event for the humanitarian response in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia
Jens Laerke for the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said a high-level Pledging Event for the humanitarian response in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, would take place on Wednesday, at 3 p.m. CET. The event would be held at the UN Headquarters in New York and would be webcast on UN WebTV. The event was being held by Italy, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United States, in collaboration with the Governments of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Mr. Laerke said that while the famine had not been declared in the region, this did not mean tragedy had been averted; there were more than 43 million people who needed assistance across these three countries. While there had been improved rains after an unprecedented drought, those rains had triggered massive flooding, which had affected almost 1 million people. The Horn of Africa was the epicentre of the climate crisis, which was why funding was needed.
Cyclone Mocha - Emergency food aid vital in Myanmar and Bangladesh
Anthea Webb, Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, of the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking from Bangkok, said Cyclone Mocha had delt a cruel blow to people living on the brink prior to the storm. The Bay of Bengal was home to large groups of vulnerable people; Myanmar had been suffering from years of conflict, while Bangladesh was home to one of the largest refugee camps, with 1 million Rohingya who depended on humanitarian assistance. The cyclone had left a path of destruction. Houses had been flattened, roads had been destroyed and telecommunications were damaged. Heavy rains had caused flash floods and landslides. 800,000 people in the cyclones path needed humanitarian assistance. Nearly half a million Rohingya living in the camps had lost their homes and assets.
Ms. Webb said WFP’s response had started even before the storm hit; the programme had reached 28,000 Bangladesh in Teknaf with anticipatory cash assistance, which allowed them to prepare for the cyclone before it was too late. After the worst had passed, WFP reached thousands of refugees with emergency food assistance in the camps, and had worked tirelessly to expand that assistance to the worst affected townships. Many people affected had already been exposed to conflict and were in dire need of aid. In March this year, funding shortages forced the WFP to reduce the value of food vouchers in the camp; the programme urgently needed $56 million USD by the end of the year to provide minimum assistance to people in the camps. In Myanmar, $60 million USD was required to assist a total of 2.1 million people, including those affected by Cyclone Mocha. The cyclone had made a bad situation much worse; WFP and UN partners were working to get aid to these people as quickly as possible.
Responding to questions, Ms. Webb said WFP operated independently of the de-facto authorities in Myanmar and had been given access to the areas. They were negotiating an expansion of that access. Ms. Webb said WFP was not able to report on casualties, but they were focussed on the 800,000 million people who were still alive and required assistance.
UNHCR appeals for safety of civilians and aid as 1 million displaced by Sudan crisis
Matthew Saltmarsh for the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR), said over a month since the fighting had started, UNHCR, was appealing for the safety of civilians, and to allow humanitarian aid to move freely in Sudan, as the organisation continued to scale up responses for the over 1 million people displaced within Sudan and in neighbouring countries. Inside Sudan, people were moving from Khartoum, Darfur and other unsafe areas. Around 88,000 refugees hosted by Sudan had fled Khartoum for safety in White Nile, Gedaref, Kassala Madani and Port Sudan. In those locations, UNHCR was delivering critical assistance including shelters, household items, clean water, healthcare and education support to refugees and other displaced people. In total, over 843,000 people had been internally displaced in Sudan, with almost 250,000 crossing borders.
Mr. Saltmarsh said the numbers of those fleeing to Egypt, which was the largest host country, was around 5,000 per day. Around 110,000 Sudanese had entered the country since the fighting began. The Egyptian Red Crescent, who were providing assistance at the border, estimated that 90 percent of people crossing moved north to Cairo, or other urban areas. Many people who arrived were in need of urgent medical treatments. Around 1,500 people were arriving to South Sudan every day. The transit facility near the border was becoming crowded and resources were extremely stretched. Efforts were being made to move people away from the borders via rail or boat. In Chad, 20,000 newly arrived Sudanese would be relocated further away from the border. The early onset of the rainy season was adding to the uncertainty.
Responding to questions, Mr. Saltmarsh said the commitment in Jeddah was extremely important; it allowed civilians to flee the fighting and essential aid to come into the country. Unfortunately, there had been horrendous shelling and fighting on the ground. It was important that the commitment in Jeddah was honoured on the ground, to allow aid to enter the country. There had been increases in the number of movements, which was why the figure had been scaled up to 1 million refugees, from the previous figure of 800,000.
Rolando Gómez said the UN welcomed the signing of the declaration of the parties and would spare no effort to ensure it was implemented properly.
Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for Cholera
Henry Gray, Public Health Emergency unit head at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the situation of cholera in various parts of the world was bad, with more countries reporting cases, including those that weren’t used to dealing with it. Mozambique and Malawi had reported more than 90,000 cases this year. There were also worse outcomes for patients, with deaths exceeding the 1 percent rate. 24 countries had reported cholera by mid-May compared to 15 the previous year. WHO estimated 1 billion people across 42 countries were at risk of cholera. The drivers for this situation were poverty, conflict, climate change and resulting displacement. The supply of vaccines was insufficient for the demand, with only a maximum of three million a month available. The outlook was bleak; there had not been enough investment in long term strategies, particularly on access to safe water and sanitation.
WHO were launching a 12-month Strategic Preparedness, Response and Readiness Plan, covering over 40 countries, with active outbreaks or at high risk of cholera. This was being launched alongside UNICEF’s Call to Action. With the plan, WHO would work alongside partners to reinforce disease surveillance, increase laboratory capacity, get people treatment more quickly, and carry out water testing and vaccinations. The aim was to drastically reduce deaths and cholera transmission, while ensuring minimal disruption to essential health and social services. Cholera could be deadly within hours when not treated, but could treated easily with simple tools such as oral rehydration salts. WHO was asking for $160 USD million for the next 12 months.
Jérôme Pfaffmann Zambruni, Public Health Emergency unit head, at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the situation on cholera was very concerning. The disease had spread around the world and required global attention. This was a pandemic which was killing the poor. More support was needed from the global community. If action wasn’t taken now, the situation would get worse, and the gains made over the past decade would be reversed. The system which existed globally was saturated and capacity needed to be increased. Six months ago, UNICEF had asked for 150,00 million USD to address this issue; now 480 million USD was needed. These were colleagues and communities on the ground, who needed support. This was a wake-up call.
Responding to questions, Mr. Gray said there was a plan in place to expand vaccine production, by doubling available doses by 2025 and a further doubling of this by 2027. There still wouldn’t be enough even with these figures, if the current trend for cholera cases continued. The vaccine was a tool, but not the overall solution. The overall solution was investment in water and wastewater systems. This was why there was not cholera in Switzerland. The disruption of the weather patterns was making the environment for cholera better. The risks of climate change were unlikely to have a positive impact on cholera and the world should prepare for more cases.
Mr. Zamburini said immediate investment in water and systems could be the start for long term. The game changer would be ensuring access to water and sanitation as a human right, for all affected. The vaccines were an additional support, but the basis would be ensuring access to water and sanitation. Cholera was a driver of inequalities and was amplified by conflict and climate change. It was simple to treat and control this disease.
Mr. Gray said there was a maximum of three million doses a month available at the moment. There were cholera plans at a country and regional level that came out frequently. He was not sure that there had been a global response plan at this level before. This plan was focused on the next 12 month due to the resurgence in cases. There were 160 million dollars needed for WHO and 480 million needed for UNICEF. Mr. Zamburini said the difference in costs was around water and sanitation, and the investment and infrastructure. The total figure was what important; more than half a billion dollars was needed to address this crisis. When you divided the number per country, it was not so overwhelming.
World Health Organization
Responding to questions, Carla Drysdale, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the involvement, if any, of observers from Taiwan, China and the WHO, was a question for the 194 members of WHO and not for the WHO Secretariat. Every year the members had an opportunity to discuss important proposals during the World Health Assembly where rules and policies governing the WHO were decided. Procedurally, a proposal would be addressed in the general committee on Sunday 21 May and in the plenary on Monday 22 May.
Ms. Drysdale said the World Health Assembly was taking place in Geneva from the 21st to the 30th of May, under the theme WHO at 75; saving lives and driving health for all. A list of speakers would be sent for the high-level welcome on Sunday the 21st of May, and the opening press release would be sent over the weekend. Following a photo on May 21st, the high-level assembly welcome would feature speeches from the WHO Director-General, Heads of State and special guests. There would also be strategic roundtables hosted, with interesting and important information.
Ms. Drysdale said if those with a proper badge could enter the Palais premises and attend any sessions of the World Health Assembly. Rolando Gómez said the building would be fully operational on Sunday and gates would open 8 a.m. at the Pregny gate. Colleagues with a proper badge could access the Palais as they would any other day.
On Sudan, Ms. Drysdale said as of May 16, according to figures from the Federal Ministry of Health, there had been 5,287 injuries and 705 deaths in the country since the fighting began. In the Khartoum State there had been 3,254 injuries and 203 deaths. Since the 15th of April, WHO had verified 34 attacks on health facilities, leading to 8 deaths. The looting of health assets and occupation of facilities by military personnel remained among the biggest obstructions of access to health care. Since the signing of the Jeddah declaration on the 11th of May, four new reports of attacks on health care facilities had been verified.
Turning to Ukraine, Ms. Drysdale said she couldn’t speak to specific questions about flammable cluster bombs used by Russia in attacks against Ukraine. Ukraine’s health system remained resilient after over a year of relentless war, but barriers remained. Russia’s full-scale invasion against Ukraine had caused a deterioration to health care services across the county. WHO continued to deliver lifesaving medical supplies across Ukraine, in coordination with local and national authorities, while also providing psychosocial support and rehabilitation efforts. WHO was working around the clock to deliver lifesaving supplies, repair damaged facilities, and train health workers.
Regarding a question asked about genome sequencing for babies in the United Kingdom, Ms. Drysdale said the WHO recognised the potential health benefits and the risks associated with these types of technologies, as well as the ethical issues they raised. WHO had an advisory committee for human genome editing technologies, which had developed a framework for governance to help national governments approach these issues. WHO advocated for strong engagement around these topics. The organisation did not make laws or regulations but could offer guidance.
Rolando Gómez, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the Secretary-General António Guterres, would attend the Group of 7 Summit meeting in Hiroshima, Japan over the weekend. Mr. Guterres would take part in two working group sessions; one to address multiple crisis and one titled “the common endeavour for a resilient and sustainable planet.” During his visit, he would meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and other leaders present at the Summit. The Secretary-General would also hold a press encounter on Sunday, details of which to be shared later.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would review the report of Iceland next Monday, 22 May, starting at 10 a.m. On 23 May, at 10 a.m., the Conference on Disarmament would hold a plenary meeting devoted to “disarmament and the gender perspective in the context of the Women Peace and Security agenda”, as part of a general debate on the “comprehensive programme of disarmament”.
Regarding UN Press Conferences, Mr. Gómez said that on Monday, the 22 May at 11:30 a.m., Bruno Lemarquis, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, would hold an update on the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On Tuesday, 23 May at 2 p.m. Akihiro Seita, UNRWA Director of Health, would speak on the health conditions of Palestine refugees in the Near East. Finally, on Wednesday, 24 May 2023 at 10 a.m., UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, would hold a press conference with Geneva-based journalists.
Mr. Gómez said the 22nd of May was the International Day for Biological Diversity and the 20th of May was World Bee Day, noting that 75 percent of the world’s crops producing fruits and seeds for human use depended on bees and pollinators.