PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE
18 July 2023
Immunization services rebounding in some countries
Dr. Kate O'Brien, Director, Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that each year WHO and UNICEF issued estimates on national immunization coverage. The 2022 data showed that recovery was under way, but it was uneven with too many countries still falling behind. In 2022, there had been 14.3 million “zero dose” children, who had not received DTP (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccines; the overall coverage of DTP vaccination stood at 89 per cent, informed Dr. O’Brien. All regions except for the Africa region had made progress; in Africa, the coverage was some six per cent lower than in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 83 per cent children in the world had received measles vaccines, lower than 86 per cent in 2019. Promising news included the HPV vaccine, which had been given to 21 per cent of girls in 2022. Backsliding with vaccinations was reversing if we looked at the world as a whole, stressed Dr. O’Brien.
Dr. Ephrem Tekle Lemango, Associate Director of Immunisation at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking from New York, stated that the vaccine recovery, while welcome, was uneven, with improvements mostly noted in several large countries, such as India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Low-income countries were struggling the most, because they were often facing other challenges, such as conflict and crises. Countries with steady vaccination rates before the pandemic had shown remarkable resilience during and after the pandemic, noted Dr. Lemango. Fifty-nine countries had reported a total of 80 measles outbreaks in 2022, he warned. In 2022, some countries had shown that vaccination recovery was possible; countries around the world ought to be supported on the same path. UNICEF encouraged governments to build and sustain vaccine confidence.
Responding to questions from the media, Dr. O’Brien emphasized that there was no link whatsoever between measles vaccines and autism. Globally, measles vaccine coverage stood at 83 per cent; the global community was on the road to recovery, but low-income countries were not following suit. As children got older, the sense of urgency on the part of their families to have them vaccinated tended to go down. Ability to conduct outreach activities in low-income countries was the weakest. Dr. Lemango explained that in Africa, stagnation of coverage was observed, with some two out of ten children not reached by DTP vaccines. Some spillover from the scepticism towards COVID-19 vaccines was being observed, but the overall weakness of community health systems across Africa was the primary cause of low vaccination rates. On HPV vaccines, global coverage stood at 21 percent, reiterated Dr. O’Brien. Among the 130 countries administering the vaccines, the coverage ranged from 50 to 67 per cent – still not where it needed to be. The goal was to reach a 90-per cent coverage of all girls by 2030.
Dr. Lemango stressed that in Africa, a significant percentage of children remained unvaccinated; challenges were to reach a higher number of children, but also the continuously growing populations. The main reason children were not getting vaccinated, explained Dr. O’Brien, was the lack of access. Misinformation and disinformation, growing both in size and scope, were also having an impact in some communities.
Vaccination rates per country over time are available here.
Clare Nullis, for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that many parts of the northern hemisphere were currently affected by extreme heatwaves. If a new temperature record was to be broken, the WMO would need to confirm it first and then inform the public.
John Nairn, Senior Extreme Heat Advisor at the WMO, stated that heatwaves were amongst the deadliest natural hazards, with hundreds of thousands of people dying from preventable heat-related causes each year. Heat was a rapidly growing health risk, due to burgeoning urbanization, an increase in high temperature extremes, and demographic changes in countries with ageing populations. A study published the previous week calculated last summer in Europe alone 60,000 additional people had died due to extreme heat, which was still a conservative estimate.
These events were going to continue and grow in intensity, and the world needed to prepare for it, as it would have a significant impact on human lives and livelihoods. The world needed to broaden its attention beyond maximum temperatures alone, said Mr. Nairn. Minimum (night) temperatures also needed to be taken into consideration, because high night temperatures did not allow human bodies to recover properly. High overnight temperatures carried highest health risks, especially for vulnerable populations.
Mr. Nairn explained that the WMO was supporting protective policies such as heat action plans that incorporated early warning and response systems for urban and non-urban settings. WMO was also supporting its members by updating guidance on heat health warning systems, and working with the World Health Organization and a wide number of partners and governments through the Global Heat Health Information Network. It was also everyone’s personal responsibility to develop their own heat plans, stressed Mr. Nairn.
Panu Saaristo, Emergency Health Unit Team leader at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaking from Budapest, said that heatwaves were an invisible killer. It was not a European phenomenon only; over the past ten years, over 400,000 people had died of weather and climate disasters, said Mr. Saaristo. Infants, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions were most at risk. Deaths from heatwaves could be greatly reduced with relatively simple solutions. Red Cross societies across Europe were doing exactly that; for example, Italian Red Cross volunteers were checking on elderly people by telephone to make sure that they were fine. The Greek Red Cross Society had been handing out drinking water and reminding tourists to remain hydrated, and the Turkish Red Crescent was responding to forest fires in six provinces across the country. During these times, the most vulnerable people, especially in urban areas, ought not be forgotten. IFRC had created a heatwave guide for cities, to help community leaders to futureproof their communities for further heatwaves. Now was the time for cities to incorporate heat measures.
Answering questions from the media, Mr. Nairn said that there would be interannual variability in temperatures from one year to another. The global trend was continuing to go upwards, so it was difficult to speak of a “new normal”. The temperature record for Europe had been observed in Sicily in August 2021, at 48.8 degrees centigrade; it was not possible to predict whether this record would be broken in 2023. Ms. Nullis emphasized that heat records had to be verified for the sake of scientific accuracy and track keeping; this painstaking process took time. Mr. Nairn explained that El Niño had different effects on different parts of the globe. If the minimum daily temperature was high (usually at night), it would then sustain very high temperatures during the day. Mr. Saaristo stressed the importance of anticipatory, early action. Governments needed to take the lead and get all of their societies on board. These were not the normal weather systems of the past; the changes were happening and would continue for quite some time, until or unless it was repaired. Electrifying everything was a major way to address climate change, said Mr. Nairn.
Situation in Sudan
Xavier Castellanos, Undersecretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaking from Nairobi, said that the conflict in Sudan was having deep humanitarian consequences in Sudan and its neighbouring countries. IFRC’s appeal had received only 7 per cent to support the affected population. More than 40,000 volunteers were available in the country to provide humanitarian services, he said. Providing adequate financial resources was of great importance, stressed Mr. Castellanos. The rainy season was about to start, increasing the risk of floods and diseases, and making access to people in need ever more difficult. Having spent two weeks in Sudan and Ethiopia, Mr. Castellanos spoke of massive unmet needs of local populations. There were evident but unmet protection needs for women and children. He praised thousands of Sudanese Red Crescent volunteers, many of whom were internally displaced themselves, or had seen their own homes destroyed. Many of these volunteers had ways to deliver aid and reach affected communities, but more resources were needed.
It was very concerning that the sufficient resources were not available and how poorly funded the emergency appeals were. The stress on host families was very high, and reception centers were packed and showing unmet needs. Mr. Castellanos reminded that significant numbers of people were fleeing violence for the second time. IFRC was prioritizing meeting the needs of women, children, and persons with disabilities. Within Sudan, the revised emergency appeal had the focus on protection. Mr. Castellanos emphasized that the whole humanitarian system was doing the best possible under the given circumstances, but the situation needed much more international financial support.
Black Sea Initiative
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), responding to questions, reiterated that Secretary-General António Guterres deeply regretted the decision by the Russian Federation to terminate the implementation of the Black Sea Initiative – including the withdrawal of Russian security guarantees for navigation in the northwest part of the Black Sea. Thanks for this initiative, the World Food Programme had shipped more than 725,000 tons to support humanitarian operations – relieving hunger in some of the hardest hit corners of the world, including Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Ms. Vellucci informed that the Secretary-General’s statement was shared with the media as soon as it was possible.
Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), reminded that UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan had addressed the media in Geneva several days earlier. Her comments on the Black Sea Initiative news would be shared when they became available. Ms. Huissoud would look for precise, updated data on exports of Russian fertilizers.
Ms. Vellucci stressed that Secretary-General Guterres would not stop, and the United Nations would not stop our efforts to facilitate the unimpeded access to global markets for food products and fertilizers from both Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), informed that today at 10 a.m., the Committee against Torture had started reviewing the report submitted by New Zealand; the review would end on 19 July in the afternoon. The review of Romania would begin on 19 July, at 10 a.m.
Today was the Nelson Mandela International Day, informed Ms. Vellucci. On that occasion, the Secretary-General had issued a message.