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News in Brief 18 April 2024

News in Brief 18 April 2024

This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.

Pandemic experts express concern over avian influenza spread to humans

The ongoing global spread of “bird flu” infections to mammals including humans is a significant public health concern, senior UN medics said on Thursday, as they announced new measures to tackle airborne diseases.

Dr Jeremy Farrar,  Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that the avian influenza virus - which is also known as H5N1 - has had an “extremely high” mortality rate among the several hundred people known to have been infected to date.

So far, no human-to-human H5N1 transmission has been recorded.

The H5N1 outbreak started in poultry and ducks; it has spread in the last one or two years to become a global pandemic among animals, said WHO’s Dr Farrar:

“The great concern, of course, is that in doing so and infecting ducks and chickens - but now increasingly mammals - that that virus now evolves and develops the ability to infect humans. And then critically, the ability to go from human-to-human transmission.”

The development comes as the WHO announced updated language to describe airborne pathogens, in a bid to increase international cooperation in the event of a new – and expected - global pandemic.

The initiative was originally sparked by the COVID-19 emergency and the recognition that there was a lack of commonly agreed terms among medics and scientists to describe how the coronavirus was transmitted, which increased the challenge of overcoming it.

Rights chief Türk urges peace for shattered DR Congo communities 

To the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where UN human rights chief Volker Türk has met survivors of massacres in eastern provinces who he said are desperate for peace.

The huge central African nation has seen years of violence in resource-rich eastern provinces which have uprooted millions of people – some 2.7 million in North Kivu alone and more than seven million nationally.

Here’s the UN rights chief now, speaking from a camp for displaced people:

“I just met with a group of people who had been displaced as a result of horrible, violent massacres committed in their homes. And they have been here for the last four years. Their most fervent wish is to be able to go back.”

Mr. Türk noted that although the DR Congo “is one of the richest countries in the world” because of its immense natural resources, “this wealth is unfortunately not available to the population because there is violence”.

Over 25 million people need humanitarian help in the DR Congo, and UN humanitarians have warned that epidemics are rampant - particularly cholera, with 50,000 suspected cases and 470 deaths in 2023, the worst since 2017. 

Measles cases have more than doubled too, to over 320,000, with deaths tripling to over 6,000 last year.

Fears of Middle East escalation undiminished amid ongoing violence

To Gaza, where attacks were reported across the enclave overnight into Thursday, including in southern Rafah where at least 11 people were killed. 

The development comes as reports indicated that Israel has boosted its military presence outside the Gaza Strip, increasing fears of an assault on Rafah, where some 1.4 million displaced Palestinian civilians now shelter.

UN humanitarians warned meanwhile that aid teams continue to encounter obstacles, including 23 emergency medical teams deployed across Gaza who have been unable to scale up their operations in the north.

Between the 15th and 17th of April, the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, said that Israeli bombardment from the air, land  and sea continued.

One hundred and two Palestinians were killed and 199 were injured, OCHA said, citing local health authorities.

This included at least eight Palestinians including whom were seven police officers – they were reportedly killed on Tuesday when a police vehicle was hit at Tuffah neighbourhood in northeastern Gaza City. 

Outside Gaza, the Israeli military reported overnight that fighter jets struck alleged Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, fuelling concerns of a regional escalation. 

 Daniel Johnson, UN News.

  • Pandemic experts express concern over avian influenza spread to humans 
  • Rights chief Türk urges peace for shattered DR Congo communities 
  • Fears of Middle East escalation undiminished amid ongoing violence
Audio Credit
Daniel Johnson, UN News
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© Unsplash/Obie Fernandez