This is the News in Brief, from the United Nations.
UN leads call to protect most vulnerable, from COVID mental health crisis
All countries should do more to protect people’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said.
Spearheading the alert ahead of the World Health Assembly in Geneva beginning next Monday, the UN chief highlighted how “we must help … and stand by” all those most at risk now.
They include frontline healthcare workers in particular, but also younger and older generations, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and others fleeing conflict.
That message was echoed by the World Health Organization’s (WHO)’s Dévora Kestel, Director, Department of Mental Health and Substance Use.
Past economic crises such as in 2008 had “increased the number of people with mental health issues” and led to higher rates of suicide and substance abuse, she said.
“There were some surveys that were done in Canada where 47 per cent of healthcare workers reported (the) need for psychological support – 47 per cent - so almost half of them. In China, we have different figures for depression: 50 per cent, anxiety 45 per cent, insomnia 34 per cent. Pakistan also, 42 per cent to 36, sorry, 26 per cent of different distress. So, the numbers are there, and these are just preliminary, we know.”
The UN’s mental health guidelines indicate that depression and anxiety before the COVID-19 pandemic cost the global economy more than $1 trillion per year.
Depression affects 264 million people in the world, while around half of all psychological conditions start by the age of 14.
Presidents and Prime Ministers lead call for ‘people’s vaccine’
UNAIDS, the UN agency that helps to prevent HIV and assists those with the disease, has led an appeal from global leaders that any vaccine which can treat COVID-19 should be free and available for all.
More than 140 world leaders and figures, including the President of South Africa and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, have signed an open letter calling on all governments to unite behind a “people’s vaccine” against COVID-19.
South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa called for scientific research to be shared between countries and for the vaccine to be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed at no charge.
“Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn”, he said, in the joint UNAIDS/Oxfam letter.
In a related development, the head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO)’s emergency response to COVID-19 has said that it’s still too soon to say when an end to the pandemic can be expected.
Dr. Mike Ryan was talking to journalists via videoconference, on Wednesday evening:
“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities. And this virus may never go away. HIV has never gone away, but we’ve come to terms with the virus and we have found the therapies and we’ve found the prevention methods and people don’t feel as scared as they did before. And we’re offering life to people - long, healthy
lives - to people with HIV. And I’m not comparing the two diseases, but I think it is important that we are realistic. And I don’t think anyone that predict or claim if this disease will disappear.”
Chemical industry must step up, to prevent more Bhopal-like disasters: UN expert
Finally, a toxic gas leak from a factory in India last week that was linked to the deaths of 12 people, and sickness among 1,000 more, should be a wake-up call to the chemical industry, a leading human rights expert said on Wednesday.
The incident on 7 May at a chemical factory in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh involved styrene, a substance used to make plastic cups and cutlery.
In addition to being lethal in large doses, it can cause cancer, brain damage and harm human reproduction - impacts which may not be apparent for years after exposure.
In a statement, Baskut Tuncak,
a UN-appointed independent rights expert, welcomed the opening of an investigation, including possible charges of homicide. He also reiterated his call last year on the 35th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster for the industry to officially acknowledge human rights standards and respect them in practice.
The Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, also urged authorities to be fully transparent and ensure that those responsible are held to account.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.