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9 ways UN teams around the world are fighting COVID-19

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9 ways UN teams around the world are fighting COVID-19

16 April 2020
A health worker combating COVID-19
UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
A health worker combating COVID-19

Right now, the entire world is affected by the coronavirus pandemic. UN teams covering 162 countries and territories are stepping up efforts and working around the clock with governments and partners to prevent and respond to COVID-19. 

Here are nine ways our UN teams are working to address what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as the greatest global crisis since World War II.

1. Uniting against COVID-19

To respond to this complex global pandemic, governments are partnering with the United Nations to save lives, protect livelihoods and minimize potential social and economic setbacks. ILO predicts that up to 25 million jobs could be lost. 

In Small Island Developing States, the UN is partnering with governments and all of societies for a coordinated response.

In Argentina, the team is focused on health, child protection, gender-based violence prevention and food provision. “This response makes it evident that we are bridging the immediate health and humanitarian demands with the need to kick-start early recovery and place countries back on their track towards sustainable development,” said Roberto Valent, UN Resident coordinator.

Led by the Pan-American Health Organization/WHO, the team is providing guidance and support on surveillance measures, laboratory diagnosis, infection control, health system preparedness and social distancing measures and with risk communication.

Citizens waiting in line for necessary resources
Citizens waiting in line for necessary resources

2. Addressing the social and economic impact for rapid recovery

The pandemic is attacking societies at their core. After reassessing the prospect for growth for 2020 and 2021, IMF declared that we have entered a recession – potentially worse than in 2009. 

To support the economic recovery efforts, the UN is establishing a new multi-partner Trust Fund for COVID19 Response and Recovery to respond to the emergency and recovery efforts in low- and middle-income countries.

According to the SG’s report on socio-economic recovery, UN Resident Coordinators leading UN teams worldwide are the drivers of the UN’s response on the ground.

The UN team in Nigeria has mobilized $2 million to procure essential medical supplies to support the Government’s response to COVID-19. This will support the Nigeria COVID-19 Response Fund, which will help to coordinate partnerships and mobilize resources.

In Peru, the Pan-American Health Organization/WHO, ILO, UNDP, UNHCR, IOM and UNFPA are partnering with the government to help the impacted healthcare system; protect workers’ rights; support communication efforts; work with migrants and refugees and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services.

3. Staying ahead of the curve

In several countries, even before COVID-19 cases were confirmed, UN teams were proactively working with Ministries of Health and other partners to prepare for the pandemic.

Before there were confirmed cases in Malawi, WHO and the UN Resident Coordinator, were already working together on the preparedness and response plan. Together, they are helping to build lab-testing capacity, recruit public health experts and engage local entrepreneurs to produce needed supplies. Additionally, the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and WHO are supporting with supply chain and logistics, supplies procurement and water and sanitation repair. The UN and Government are also boosting economic efforts through temporary cash transfers and national identification programmes.

Worker wearing protective gear handling documents and money
Worker wearing protective gear handling documents and money
WFP/Badre Bahaji

In Zambia, upon the Government’s request, the UN team is helping to train health workers to care for patients with COVID-19, as well as themselves.  Also, the Resident Coordinator and WHO are working on resource mobilization and re-purposing previous funding to procure critical supplies for the country’s response.

4. Boosting governments’ communications strategies

“The fight against COVID-19 is largely a communications battle: to change habits, to wash hands, to stay at home, to keep social distancing, to be kind, stay calm and be connected,” said Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Upon the Government’s request, the UN team has deployed communications experts to different government entities to support with their crisis communication.

In China, the UN team assists national and local efforts to share information on COVID-19 through offline and online media, including social videos that have reached more than 1 billion views. The team is also finding innovative ways to support the response through artificial intelligence, mobile phones and drones.

Individuals wearing protective gear working on robot
Individuals wearing protective gear working on robot
UNDP China

In Uzbekistan, the UN team, WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF trained more than 30 communications professionals from the government and other sectors on risk communications. The training accompanies a UN-backed campaign with the government to make material more available across the country and online in Uzbek and Russian.

5. Engaging the private sector

The UN is establishing new streams of support by teaming up with private sector partners across the globe to help with the relief efforts.

In Brazil, the UN Global Compact – a UN initiative that engages businesses in the COVID-19 response – gathers information on companies’ COVID-19 response efforts. The aim is to map and help address workers’ rights and safety. One example is one of the biggest beverage companies has shifted its production to make half a million alcohol-based sanitizer bottles.

In Nigeria, a container company, APM Terminals Nigeria, has contributed $200,000 towards the UN’s fund to help mobilize resources to boost the response efforts of the government. With the government, the UN is mobilizing funds to ensure access to essential health equipment needed for medical testing, quarantine facilities and healthcare services.

6. Supporting home schooling needs

More than 1.52 billion children and youth are currently out of school or university, which accounts for 87 per cent of the students enrolled. According to UNESCO, nearly 60.2 million teachers are no longer in the classroom. With millions of children needing to study from home, governments had to quickly prepare distance-learning programmes worldwide:

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, UNICEF and partners have organized online classes available for migrants and refugees residing in the temporary reception centres.

Children video messaging adult
Children video messaging adult
UNICEF and IOM Bosnia and Herzegovina

In The Gambia, UNICEF is supporting with water and sanitation efforts, as well as on schools and community education.

In Zimbabwe, the UN is supporting the Government with awareness raising materials such as posters and leaflets, and home-schooling preparedness needs for the school system.

7. Fast-tracking procurement for immediate health needs

The UN has implemented fast-track methods to ensure the most efficient means of obtaining the life-savings goods and services needed on the ground worldwide.

In Argentina, UNOPS is helping to urgently procure eight fully equipped emergency modular hospitals that will provide an additional 560 inpatient therapy beds. One third of the area will be dedicated to intensive care units.

In South Sudan, while there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases according to WHO figures, the UN team helped set up a laboratory to test for COVID-19 and constructed a multi-purpose infectious disease unit to isolate and treat suspected cases. The team also helped train health workers.

In Guatemala, the UN is helping to procure urgent medical equipment to diagnose, treat and monitor patients. It is also advising on mitigation actions to help ensure that the provision of existing healthcare services continues as planned, including the purchase of essential medicines and equipment.

Individual putting on full-body protective gear
Individual putting on full-body protective gear
UN Guatemala

8. Making sure women and girls are safe at home, where most acts of violence occur

Globally, 243 million women and girls aged 15 to 49 have experienced violence by an intimate partner in the last year, according to UN Women. The home can be the most dangerous place for some women as many women are being forced to ‘lockdown’ at home with their abusers at the same time that services to support survivors are disrupted or inaccessible.

Two children, remaining inside, looking longingly outdoors
Two children, remaining inside, looking longingly outdoors
Ricardo Franco/UN

According to the SG’s brief on the impact of COVID-19 on women, there has been an increase of upwards of 25% of reported cases of violence against women so far. In some countries reported cases have doubled.

To protect the safety and security of women and girls, UN entities worldwide are working with governments and implementing partners, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, which has one of the world’s highest rates of femicide and gender-based violence. In Argentina and Guatemala,through the EU-UN backed Spotlight Initiative, UN Women is supporting national and local authorities to ensure continued services to survivors of domestic violence.

The UN has also supported with innovative solutions across the globe to make resources and services accessible for women virtually.

9. Leaving no one behind

From translating campaigns to languages for ethnic minorities and addressing measures to protect indigenous peoples, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, populations in prisons and people living with HIV, UN teams are making sure their response efforts leave no one behind.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN teams are providing access to education, resources and employment opportunities to migrants and refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere—especially for the women.

In Brazil, the UN has deployed experts to respond to needs of the migrants and refugees that reside in the states that border Venezuela. UNAIDS is supporting with outreach and access to medication for people living with HIV. UNDP is working with judges to adopt non-custodial measures for mothers, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and persons in prison.

In Syria, WHO is prioritizing prevention, preparedness and risk communication by supporting health responders to detect, diagnose and prevent spread, surveillance of entry-points, provision of protective equipment and training of health workers. Health facilities and selected intensive care units are being prepared and communities most at risk have been identified.

Health Campaign