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WHO News

Geneva, 15 May 2020 – Presidents Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica and Sebastián Piñera of Chile joined WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today to announce progress on a technology platform that aims to lift access barriers to effective vaccines, medicines and other health products against COVID-19. Costa Rica proposed the idea at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and several countries are now backing the proposal.“Our proposal relies on solidarity,” said President Alvarado of Costa Rica. “It’s a Solidarity call to action to Member States, to academia, to companies, research institutions and cooperation agencies, based on global social responsibility, on a voluntary basis, promoting more global nonexclusive voluntary licensing.”“We need to unleash the full power of science, without caveats or restrictions, to deliver innovations that are scalable, usable, and benefit everyone, everywhere, at the same time,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.“Traditional market models will not deliver at the scale needed to cover the entire globe. Solidarity within and between countries and the private sector is essential if we are to overcome these difficult times.”“Chile, like most countries in the international community, considers that only through international cooperation is it possible to emerge victorious from the crisis caused by COVID-19,” said Ambassador Cristian Streeter, Director of Multilateral Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking on behalf of President Piñera of Chile.The platform will pool data, knowledge and intellectual property for existing or new COVID-19 health products to deliver ‘global public goods’ for all people and all countries. Through the open sharing of science and data, numerous companies will be able to access the information they need to produce the technologies, thereby scaling up availability worldwide, lowering costs and increasing access. WHO and Costa Rica will officially launch the platform on 29 May. On that date, a Solidarity Call to Action will be published on WHO’s web site where governments, research and development funders, institutions and companies can express their support.The solidarity of all of WHO’s Member States will be critical to ensuring the technology platform can be a meaningful tool for equitable access to COVID-19 health products.
All over the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant loss of life, disrupting livelihoods, and threatening the recent advances in health and progress towards global development goals highlighted in the 2020 World Health Statistics published by the World Health Organization (WHO) today. “The good news is that people around the world are living longer and healthier lives. The bad news is the rate of progress is too slow to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and will be further thrown off track by COVID-19,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “The pandemic highlights the urgent need for all countries to invest in strong health systems and primary health care, as the best defense against outbreaks like COVID-19, and against the many other health threats that people around the world face every day. Health systems and health security are two sides of the same coin.” WHO’s World Health Statistics — an annual check-up on the world’s health — reports progress against a series of key health and health service indicators, revealing some important lessons in terms of progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals and gaps to fill. Life expectancy and healthy life expectancy have increased, but unequally. The biggest gains were reported in low-income countries, which saw life expectancy rise 21% or 11 years between 2000 and 2016 (compared with an increase of 4% or 3 years in higher income countries). One driver of progress in lower-income countries was improved access to services to prevent and treat HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as a number of neglected tropical diseases such as guinea worm. Another was better maternal and child healthcare, which led to a halving of child mortality between 2000 and 2018. But in a number of areas, progress has been stalling. Immunization coverage has barely increased in recent years, and there are fears that malaria gains may be reversed. And there is an overall shortage of services within and outside the health system to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease, and stroke. In 2016, 71 per cent of all deaths worldwide were attributable to NCDs, with the majority of the 15 million premature deaths (85%) occurring in low and middle-income countries. This uneven progress broadly mirrors inequalities in access to quality health services. Only between one third and one half the world’s population was able to obtain essential health services in 2017. Service coverage in low- and middle-income countries remains well below coverage in wealthier ones; as do health workforce densities. In more than 40% of all countries, there are fewer than 10 medical doctors per 10 000 people. Over 55% of countries have fewer than 40 nursing and midwifery personnel per 10 000 people.  The inability to pay for healthcare is another major challenge for many. On current trends, WHO estimates that this year, 2020, approximately 1 billion people (almost 13 per cent of the global population) will be spending at least 10% of their household budgets on health care. The majority of these people live in lower middle-income countries. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need to protect people from health emergencies, as well as to promote universal health coverage and healthier populations to keep people from needing health services through multisecotral interventions like improving basic hygiene and sanitation,” said Dr Samira Asma, Assistant Director General at WHO. In 2017, more than half (55%) of the global population was estimated to lack access to safely-managed sanitation services, and more than one quarter (29%) lacked safely-managed drinking water. In the same year, two in five households globally (40%) lacked basic handwashing facilities with soap and water in their home.  The World Health Statistics also highlight the need for stronger data and health information systems. Uneven capacities to collect and use accurate, timely, and comparable health statistics, undermining countries’ ability to understand population health trends, develop appropriate policies, allocate resources and prioritize interventions.  For almost a fifth of countries, over half of the key indicators have no recent primary or direct underlying data, another major challenge in enabling countries to prepare for, prevent and respond to health emergencies such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. WHO is therefore supporting countries in strengthening surveillance and data and health information systems so they can measure their status and manage improvements.   “The message from this report is clear: as the world battles the most serious pandemic in 100 years, just a decade away from the SDG deadline, we must act together to strengthen primary health care and focus on the most vulnerable among us in order to eliminate the gross inequalities that dictate who lives a long, healthy life and who doesn’t,” added Asma. “We will only succeed in doing this by helping countries to improve their data and health information systems.”  Note for editors The World Health Statistics have been compiled primarily from publications and databases produced and maintained by WHO or by United Nations (UN) groups of which WHO is a member, such as the UN Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation. In addition, some statistics have been derived from data produced and maintained by other international organizations, such as the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and its Population Division. The Global Health Observatory database contains additional details about the health-related SDG indicators, as well as interactive visualizations.  
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planned 11th meeting of the Global Network of WHO CCs for Bioethics at Stellenbosch University in April could not be held. A virtual meeting was held on 8 May to share important insights gained through the COVID-related projects CCs have been involved in and discuss common ethical challenges faced around the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today signed an agreement to work together to promote health through sport and physical activity."I am pleased to formalize this longstanding partnership with the International Olympic Committee," said Dr Tedros Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "WHO works not only to respond to disease but also to help people realize their healthiest lives and this partnership will do exactly that. Physical activity is one of the keys to good health and well-being."This collaboration is timely. The current COVID-19 pandemic is particularly affecting people with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The agreement has a special focus on preventing NCDs through sport. Physical activity helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various types of cancer (including breast cancer and colon cancer). Other areas of collaboration include working with host countries to ensure the health of athletes, supporters and workers at the games as well as addressing NCD risk factors, including water quality and air pollution. The two institutions will also work to ensure that the games leave a healthy legacy in host countries through enhanced awareness of the value of sport and physical activity.The two organizations also intend to work together promote grassroots and community sports programmes that have a further reach within the general public, particularly among girls, older people and people living with disability who may find it harder to keep active and healthy.“Over the last few months in the current crisis, we have all seen how important sport and physical activity are for physical and mental health. Sport can save lives,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. "The IOC calls on the governments of the world to include sport in their post-crisis support programmes because of the important role of sport in the prevention of NCDs, but also of communicable diseases.”Globally, WHO estimates that 1 in 4 adults is not active enough and more than 80% of the world's adolescent population is insufficiently physically active. The new partnership will bring together the sports and health sectors at international, regional and national levels to reach global goal of increasing physical activity by 15%, as set out in the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity. 
We, the leaders of global health, human rights and development institutions, come together to urgently draw the attention of political leaders to the heightened vulnerability of prisoners and other people deprived of liberty to the COVID-19 pandemic, and urge them to take all appropriate public health measures in respect of this vulnerable population that is part of our communities.
Conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic present a significant threat to life in Libya. The health and safety of the country’s entire population are at risk. Close to 400,000 Libyans have been displaced since the start of the conflict nine years ago – around half of them within the past year, since the attack on the capital, Tripoli, started. Despite repeated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, including by the United Nations Secretary-General, hostilities continue unabated, hindering access and the delivery of critical humanitarian supplies. Humanitarian workers face significant challenges every day to carry on with their mission. In March 2020, humanitarian partners reported a total of 851 access constraints on movement of humanitarian personnel and humanitarian items within and into Libya. The situation for many migrants and refugees is especially alarming. Since the start of this year, more than 3,200 people have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya. Many end up in one of the eleven official detention centers. Others are taken to facilities or unofficial detention centers to which the humanitarian community does not have access. The United Nations has repeatedly reiterated that Libya is not a safe port and that persons rescued at sea should not be returned to arbitrary detention. Women and children continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing armed conflict in Libya: over the past year, the United Nations verified 113 cases of grave violations, including killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools, and health facilities. Hospitals and health facilities have been targeted by shelling, further disrupting Libya’s fragile health system. Since the beginning of the year, at least 15 attacks have damaged health facilities and ambulances and injured health care workers. These attacks are a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and even more egregious during the COVID-19 pandemic. The onset of the coronavirus in Libya poses yet another strain on the already overstretched health system, and further threatens the most vulnerable people in the country. As of May 13, there were 64 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including three deaths, in different parts of the country. This shows that local/community transmission is taking place. The risk of further escalation of the outbreak is very high. Food security, already a challenge, is being compromised by the spread of COVID-19 and its socioeconomic impact on Libyan families. Latest market assessments show that most cities are facing shortages of basic food items coupled with an increase in prices. Limited market availability of goods and higher prices are impacting plans, as are supply chain disruptions. Continued support to food security inside the country is essential so that this health crisis does not worsen by becoming a food crisis. We urge all parties to the conflict to protect vital water supply facilities. We are acutely alarmed that water facilities have been deliberately targeted or indiscriminately attacked. This affects thousands of women and children and impedes efforts to implement basic virus prevention measures, such as hand-washing. We support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and a humanitarian pause to save lives and enable the Libyan authorities and their partners to devote their energies to stopping the spread of COVID-19. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the conflict in Libya and its catastrophic effect on civilians, including migrants and refugees, across the country. Despite enormous challenges, the UN and our humanitarian partners have continued to reach the most vulnerable people in Libya. Funds are urgently required, including for vital enabling services such as the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, if we are to continue meeting emergency needs. We look forward with anticipation to the pledged financial support to the Humanitarian Response Plan for Libya, as announced by the Government of National Accord. Donors have been supportive. We ask that they continue to show their generosity and stand by the people of Libya in their quest for peace and in this moment of great need. Signatories: UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi Executive Director of UNICEF Henrietta Fore Executive Director of UN Population Fund Dr. Natalia Kanem Executive Director of the World Food Programme David Beasley Director-General of World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director General of International Organization for Migration António Vitorino 
The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months, according to a policy brief on COVID-19 and mental health issued by the United Nations today. “The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Social isolation, fear of contagion, and loss of family members is compounded by the distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”Depression and anxiety are increasingReports already indicate an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries. A study in Ethiopia, in April 2020, reported a 3-fold increase in the prevalence of symptoms of depression compared to estimates from Ethiopia before the epidemic. Specific population groups are at particular risk of COVID-related psychological distress. Frontline health-care workers, faced with heavy workloads, life-or-death decisions, and risk of infection, are particularly affected. During the pandemic, in China, health-care workers have reported high rates of depression (50%), anxiety (45%), and insomnia (34%) and in Canada, 47% of health-care workers have reported a need for psychological support. Children and adolescents are also at risk. Parents in Italy and Spain have reported that their children have had difficulties concentrating, as well as irritability, restlessness and nervousness. Stay-at-home measures have come with a heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse. Children with disabilities, children in crowded settings and those who live and work on the streets are particularly vulnerable. Other groups that are at particular risk are women, particularly those who are juggling home-schooling, working from home and household tasks, older persons and people with pre-existing mental health conditions. A study carried out with young people with a history of mental health needs living in the UK reports that 32% of them agreed that the pandemic had made their mental health much worse.An increase in alcohol consumption is another area of concern for mental health experts. Statistics from Canada report that 20% of 15-49 year-olds have increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.Mental health services interruptedThe increase in people in need of mental health or psychosocial support has been compounded by the interruption to physical and mental health services in many countries. In addition to the conversion of mental health facilities into care facilities for people with COVID-19, care systems have been affected by mental health staff being infected with the virus and the closing of face-to-face services. Community services, such as self-help groups for alcohol and drug dependence, have, in many countries, been unable to meet for several months. “It is now crystal clear that mental health needs must be treated as a core element of our response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This is a collective responsibility of governments and civil society, with the support of the whole United Nations System. A failure to take people’s emotional well-being seriously will lead to long-term social and economic costs to society.”Finding ways to provide servicesIn concrete terms, it is critical that people living with mental health conditions have continued access to treatment. Changes in approaches to provision of mental health care and  psychosocial support are showing signs of success in some countries. In Madrid, when more than 60% of mental health beds were converted to care for people with COVID-19, where possible, people with severe conditions were moved to private clinics to ensure continuity of care. Local policy-makers identified emergency psychiatry as an essential service to enable mental health-care workers to continue outpatient services over the phone. Home visits were organized for the most serious cases. Teams from Egypt, Kenya, Nepal, Malaysia and New Zealand, among others, have reported creating increased capacity of emergency telephone lines for mental health to reach people in need. Support for community actions that strengthen social cohesion and reduce loneliness, particularly for the most vulnerable, such as older people, must continue. Such support is required from government, local authorities, the private sector and members of the general public, with initiatives such as provision of food parcels, regular phone check-ins with people living alone, and organization of online activities for intellective and cognitive stimulation. An opportunity to build back betterThe scaling-up and reorganization of mental health services that is now needed on a global scale is an opportunity to build a mental health system that is fit for the future,” said Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO. “This means developing and funding national plans that shift care away from institutions to community services, ensuring coverage for mental health conditions in health insurance packages and building the human resource capacity to deliver quality mental health and social care in the community.” 
A survey for healthcare professionals about their country’s - and the world’s - efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergencies.
When Ms. Fatoumata Binta Toure learned the results of a WHO/HRP-led study in four countries  showing that more than one-third of women experienced mistreatment during childbirth in health facilities, she was not entirely surprised.   “We often heard that women were experiencing these issues, but this research gave us the truth,” the President of the National Association of Nurses of Guinea explained. “It is not the objective of childbirth, for women to be treated with violence. We saw this study as a chance to move forward – to put a plan of action in place and improve respectful care for women.”  A positive childbirth experience is about more than the birth of a healthy baby. It meets a woman’s personal and cultural expectations. It gives her a sense of control and involvement in decision-making in her own care, supported by competent clinical staff and her own choice of birth companion.    This is not the experience or the expectation for many women preparing to give birth. The WHO/HRP study, carried out in Ghana, Guinea, Myanmar and Nigeria, recorded a range of negative experiences in health facilities. These included physical and verbal abuse, stigma and discrimination, and medical procedures performed without consent.   For scientists at CERREGUI (Center for Research in Reproductive Health in Guinea), the coordinating research institute in Guinea, publishing the evidence in The Lancet was not the end of the story.  “If a woman expects mistreatment, why will she go to a hospital to deliver? We know that improving respectful care will encourage more women to deliver at a facility with skilled birth attendance, reducing maternal mortality in the long-term. It is also crucial from a women’s rights perspective,” explained Dr Mamadou Dioulde Balde, Coordinator of CERREGUI, which has also been a grantee of the HRP Alliance’s research capacity strengthening activities.  “When we understood the scale of the problem, our team was motivated to move beyond the published literature to practical recommendations.”  Less than two months after publication in December 2019, with support from WHO/HRP, CERREGUI brought ministry officials with maternity hospital directors, nongovernmental organizations, professional associations and international agencies to present the research findings together in Conakry, Guinea. Together they developed a set of recommendations which could be implemented at the national level to reduce mistreatment of women during childbirth.  These include practical steps such as allowing chosen birth companions and accepting the birth position desired by the woman, as well as health system changes such as scaling up training in respectful maternity care and strengthening governance and oversight.   Accepted by the Ministry of Health, these recommendations are incorporated into the Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Infant, Adolescent Health and Nutrition (SRMNIA-N 2020-2024) Strategic Plan and the  MUSKOKA Action Plan of 2021.   “All women have the right to dignified, respectful health care across pregnancy and childbirth, free from violence and discrimination,” said Dr Bernadette Dramou, WHO National Professional Officer for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child & Adolescent Health /Nutrition. “From the Ministry of Health to the maternity ward, we are committed and enthusiastic about turning this research into action, putting into practice these recommendations for respectful care which can improve the experience of childbirth for every woman in Guinea.”  Some health facilities are already taking steps which make a significant difference to the well-being of women.  At the maternity ward of the National Teaching Hospital, Ignace Deen, in Conakry, birth companions of choice are being accommodated.   “We shared the recommendations widely with a lot of midwives, and immediately took actions to improve respectful maternity care in our hospital,” explained Mrs. Hawa Keita, Head Midwife of Maternity Ward at Ignace Dean.  “We now have a chair by the side of each bed in the labour ward, so that every woman can have their companion of choice by their side through childbirth.”   Nurses and midwives make up nearly half of the global health workforce. They were critical stakeholders at the meeting to develop national recommendations.   “When we know the numbers, we can make informed decisions, improving our own work practices and conditions in ways that lead to improvement for women,” said Mrs. Marie Conde, President of the Order of Midwives in Guinea.   “All midwives should be aware of the different types of mistreatment women can experience. We also need to be proactive and make sure that women in our care during labour and childbirth understand what kind of treatment they should receive.”   For Dr Balde, the experience of coordinating this study, as well as ongoing research capacity strengthening support from the HRP Alliance has made a difference on several levels.  “As a teacher, I see how important this has been for my students and my colleagues. First, we now have viable data which we know can make a difference to policy. Second, being part of a multi-country study has led to very interesting exchanges of experiences between teams. Third, I see members of our team going on to further research training with the help of the HRP Alliance, taking on new projects that can improve sexual and reproductive health for women across Guinea.”  “It is encouraging to see countries take on board the importance of ensuring a positive experience for women during childbirth.” said Dr Ӧzge Tunçalp, scientist at WHO and senior author of the study. “We hope that women in Guinea will reap the benefits of this new approach, which puts women’s wishes and preferences more at the centre of their care. It should not be forgotten either that evidence also suggests a positive experience at childbirth may lead on to improved outcomes for each woman and her child - in the immediate post-pregnancy period and far beyond.”  Photo: Research and recommendations stakeholder workshop, Conakry, Guinea (2019)
Launch of the online courses on tobacco product regulation