This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.
First wave of COVID-19 vaccine syringes start journey to Maldives
The critical task of ensuring that all countries have enough medical equipment to vaccinate people safely against COVID-19 gathered pace on Tuesday, with news that 100,000 syringes have been sent to the Maldives, ahead of an inoculation drive.
The shipment is part of “the first wave” of syringes and safety boxes organised by UN Children’s Fund UNICEF.
Over the next few weeks, the agency plans to dispatch more than 14.5 million single-use needles to more than 30 countries, including Côte d'Ivoire and São Tomé and Príncipe.
These include the 0.5 millilitre syringes which are meant for use with the AstraZeneca vaccine, while the 0.3 millilitre version is for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
In total, UNICEF aims to supply up to one billion syringes and 10 million safety boxes to countries in 2021, ahead of the broader rollout of new coronavirus vaccines in 82 low and low-to-middle income countries.
Oxygen shortage hits 500,000 virus sufferers in developing countries
Staying with the pandemic, and an alert from the UN that COVID-19 has left more than half a million people around the world without enough oxygen canisters to help them breathe more easily.
According to UNITAID, demand in low and middle income countries has spiked because of the virus - although the problem pre-dates the coronavirus because of cost and logistical barriers.
To respond to the emergency, a COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce has been launched to supply oxygen in up to 20 countries, including Malawi, Nigeria and Afghanistan.
It’s part of the UN and partner-led COVAX initiative to protect people from COVID-19 worldwide and it needs $1.6 billion in funding over the next 12 months.
Here’s UNITAID spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel:
“Since the start of the pandemic, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge in low and middle income countries, while COVID-19 has put huge pressure on health systems, with hospitals in many low and middle income countries running out of oxygen, resulting in preventable deaths.”
Mr. Verhoosel said that 1.1 million cylinders of oxygen are needed every day, while 25 countries have reported surging demand, the majority of which are in Africa.
‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties linked to peace talks
A disturbing report finally from the UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, which on Tuesday announced that despite a drop in the number of civilian deaths last year, casualties rose after the start of peace negotiations in September.
According to the report, 2020 saw 3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.
This overall decrease in 2020 was owing to fewer casualties from suicide attacks by anti-Government actors in populated areas, as well as a drop in casualties attributed to international military forces.
But there was still a rise in targeted killings by non-state actors, which were up by about 45 per cent last year.
The use of pressure-plate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the Taliban, air strikes by the Afghan Air Force, and ground engagements also resulted in increased casualties, researchers said.
In response to the findings of the report, co-produced with the UN rights office, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that
Afghanistan remained “among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”.
She also said that she was appalled “by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began”.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.