The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. Since its emergence in Asia late last year, the virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica. Cases are rising daily in Africa the Americas, and Europe.
Countries are racing to slow the spread of the virus by testing and treating patients, carrying out contact tracing, limiting travel, quarantining citizens, and cancelling large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts, and schools.
The pandemic is moving like a wave—one that may yet crash on those least able to cope.
But COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis. By stressing every one of the countries it touches, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will leave deep scars.
We are in uncharted territory. Many of our communities are now unrecognizable. Dozens of the world’s greatest cities are deserted as people stay indoors, either by choice or by government order. Across the world, shops, theatres, restaurants and bars are closing.
Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return. Small island nations, heavily dependent on tourism, have empty hotels and deserted beaches. The International Labour Organization estimates that 195 million jobs could be lost.
Every country needs to act immediately to prepare, respond, and recover. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has launched a US$2 billion global humanitarian response plan in the most vulnerable. Developing countries could lose at least US$220 billion in income, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has called for US$2.5 trillion to support them.
Drawing on our experience with other outbreaks such as Ebola, HIV, SARS, TB and malaria, as well as our long history of working with the private and public sector, UNDP will help countries to urgently and effectively respond to COVID-19 as part of its mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and build resilience to crises and shocks.
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“We are already hard at work, together with our UN family and other partners, on three immediate priorities: supporting the health response including the procurement and supply of essential health products, under WHO’s leadership, strengthening crisis management and response, and addressing critical social and economic impacts.”UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner
We have been supporting countries since the very early stages of this crisis, donating more than two million surgical masks and providing life supporting medical equipment such as X-ray machines, infrared thermometers, infusion pumps, protective suits, gloves and hand sanitizer. We are supporting health systems in countries including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Djibouti, El Salvador, Eritrea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Nigeria, Paraguay, Panama and Ukraine.
In China we launched a social media campaign to spread information about COVID-19 amongst vulnerable communities such as the elderly and other disadvantaged people in 40 different minority languages.
In Lebanon we’re supporting the government as it develops a Disaster Risk Management Plan. And in Viet Nam we’re working with the government to communicate with ethnic minorities and those with disabilities, with a focus on the rural areas on China’s border.
Working with WhatsApp, WHO and UNICEF we have created an information hub that will get real time healthcare to billions around the world.
We have teamed up with AMV, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, and actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry for the Tweet Zero campaign, which highlights the simple actions that can keep you safe; such as frequent hand washing, staying home when sick and not touching your face.
Partnering with the European Union in Serbia we have begun delivering and distributing vital medical supplies such respirators, protective equipment and diagnostic tests.
In the Arab states we are working with governments and citizens to deliver essential services, and fight misinformation.
It will require all of society to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to cushion the potentially devastating impact it may have on vulnerable people and economies.
We must rebuild trust and cooperation, within and among nations, and between people and their governments.
UNDP’s support will also help ensure that the responses of individual countries are comprehensive as well as equitable and inclusive, so that no one is left out and countries can continue to make progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
While we do this, we must also consider ways to prevent a similar pandemic recurring. In the longer term, UNDP will look at ways to help countries to better prevent and manage such crises and ensure that the world makes full use of what we will learn from this one.
A global response now is an investment in our future.
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