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World: Opening statement, COVID-19 Press Conference, 16 July 2020 - Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, World Source: World Health Organization It is my great pleasure to be joined by the Honourable Minister of Health and Population of the Central African Republic, bienvenue Monsieur le Ministre, and the Regional Director for ICRC in Africa, and Ms Adhieu Achuil Dhieu Kueth, a young lady, refugee and university student, to discuss the impacts of this pandemic on people living in very challenging, difficult and precarious settings, and the urgent need to improve access to essential services, including for COVID-19. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26% of the world s refugees and around 19 million internally displaced people who have fled their homes due to violence and conflict. During this global crisis, these are among the most vulnerable people in the world to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to challenges in accessing humanitarian settings, cases of COVID-19 are possibly underreported and public health capacities for surveillance, testing, isolation, care and contact tracing, are being scaled-up wherever it s possible. In Ethiopia, for instance, community engagement, including in surveillance and infection prevention and control activities, is ongoing in all refugee camps and sites where internally displaced people are living. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in complex settings in North and South Kivu and Ituri provinces, laboratories are equipped to diagnose COVID-19, building on capacities strengthened during the Ebola response. I d like to mention here that the Government and partners in the DRC, while responding to COVID-19, are also dealing with an Ebola outbreak in Equateur province. You will recall that is where we had an outbreak two years ago. There are now 56 cases and this is of great concern, particularly as it is now surpassing the previous outbreak in this area which was closed off and controlled at a total of 54 cases. Some cases are located in remote areas surrounded by rainforests, demanding additional capacities and resources for the response. And this just illustrates the fact that countries have to at the same time as responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, then have to deal with other health problems, including responding to other epidemics. Returning to humanitarian settings: in crowded and sometimes very-low-resource settings, such as camps and settlements, the basic preventive measures for COVID-19 of physical distancing and frequent hand hygiene can be incredibly challenging to implement. WHO recommends health screening for new arrivals, temporary isolation facilities for suspected cases, adapting activities like food distribution to limit gatherings, strengthening infection prevention and control practices (including ensuring access to water supplies and handwashing stations), and importantly, ensuring essential health services for other diseases and conditions continue to be provided. This week, the United Nations will launch an update to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan to scale-up access to life-essential services for health, water and sanitation, and food and nutrition for vulnerable populations. This action is urgently needed. Already funding shortages have resulted in reduced food rations in some settlements and imminent threats of increases in acute malnutrition, stunting and anaemia. As the reported COVID-19 cases on the African continent pass 640,000 with 14,000 people having lost their lives, global solidarity is needed more than ever in fighting this epidemic. And I d like to just say here that we are seeing many governments ease the lockdown measures that had been put in place and bought some time in scaling-up the public health capacities so we should be expecting that in some countries there will be an increase in cases. We will all have to work together to then control what happens as far as those increases are concerned. For at least three months now, vulnerable communities have been experiencing socio-economic difficulties exacerbated by COVID-19. It is in the interests of peace, international security and equity that all countries and partners do more to assist the innocent civilians affected by the violence and conflict. I therefore call on all parties to conflict to implement the UN Security Council resolution on COVID-19, focusing on our common enemy, the virus and ceasing hostilities. I have to say here that we have a formidable ally and leader in Honourable Minister Somse, who has actively pursued using health as a bridge for peace in his country in the last couple of years. So, I look forward very much to our discussion today and thank you once again for joining us.


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