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News in Brief 30 January 2023

News in Brief 30 January 2023

This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.

Tedros: COVID-19 remains an international health threat

The head of the UN health agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Monday that COVID-19 is still a global health threat and that now is not the time to declare the pandemic over.

Tedros’s decision is in line with the latest coronavirus Emergency Committee meeting last Friday at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

It is three years to the week, since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency of international concern, after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China.

The WHO Director-General said that although the world is in a better position than a year ago, when Omicron infections surged, more than 170,000 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported globally, in just the last eight weeks. 

Tedros noted once again that surveillance and genetic sequencing of the coronavirus have declined globally, making it more difficult to track known variants and detect new ones. 

He warned that health systems continue to struggle to treat a high number of COVID-19 patients and others with influenza and respiratory infections, amid staff shortages and health worker burnout. 

The UN health agency chief also insisted that vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics remain critical in preventing severe disease, saving lives and taking the pressure off health systems and health workers globally.

Despite their proven worth, Tedros said that the COVID-19 response remains “hobbled” in too many countries that are unable to provide these tools to the populations most in need, older people and health workers. 

Globally, there have been more than 752.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 6.8 million deaths, reported to WHO. More than 13 billion vaccine doses have been administered.

WHO calls for more urgency to tackle neglected tropical diseases

Staying with the World Health Organization, which on Monday called for continued progress against neglected tropical diseases, that continue to disproportionately affect poor communities.

A new report from the UN health agency indicated that just 16 countries accounted for 80 per cent of all cases of neglected tropical sickness in 2021.

The category includes around 20 conditions that are caused by a variety of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and toxins.

“These diseases cause devastating health, social and economic consequences, and when they aren’t deadly, they very often cause life-long social stigma and consequent economic hardship,” WHO said.

Although 25 per cent fewer people required treatment for neglected tropical diseases in 2021 than a decade earlier, the UN health agency said that an estimated 1.6 billion people still fell sick, mainly in areas where water safety, sanitation and access to healthcare are inadequate.

Libya: human rights abuses must be addressed, says UN probe

To Libya, where top UN-appointed independent rights investigators have urged the authorities to share more information on mass graves and other serious crimes linked to the country’s civil war.

The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya was established by the Human Rights Council in June 2020, to investigate alleged abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed in Libya since 2016.

The panel’s latest official visit to Libya which ended on Sunday heard testimony from victims’ relatives of extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, human trafficking, internal displacement, the existence of mass burial sites, and morgues containing corpses that families cannot access.

In a statement, the investigators maintained that the State’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law “have not produced justice for the victims and their families”.

They also called for the immediate release of Iftikhar Boudra, who was detained in Benghazi four years ago, following critical comments she made on social media about militarization in eastern Libya.

Ms. Boudra is reportedly critically ill and her relatives say that they have not been allowed to visit her for months.

Daniel Johnson, UN News.

Audio Credit
Daniel Johnson, UN News - Geneva
Photo Credit
© UNICEF/Habib Kanobana