In case you missed it Vol 24, No. 07 - July 2020

UN pays tribute to public servants on the frontlines of COVID-19 crisis

As many of us have been sheltering at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, others have put their lives at risk to keep our societies running. Heroic public servants around the world have put service before self to ensure an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On UN Public Service Day on 23 June, a celebratory event paid tribute to these many women and men on the frontlines. It was a special moment to convey a heartfelt ‘thank you’.

Originally scheduled to take place in Busan, Republic of Korea, this year’s celebration of UN Public Service Day went virtual due to the crisis. It was organized by UN DESA together with the Ministry of the Interior and Safety of the Republic of Korea, represented at the event by Minister Chin Young.

Providing a video address for the event, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed the public servants’ remarkable acts of service to humankind and the need to “reflect on how to better protect, recognize and invest in their well-being as we build back better, together.”

The event brought together a range of high-level speakers including the President of the General Assembly Mr. Tijjani Muhammad Bande, who stressed that “if we learnt any lesson from COVID-19, it is that, in a period of emergency, the proactive and morale-boosting role of the public service remains critical”.

The President of Ethiopia, Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, provided a keynote address, stressing that ‘the overwhelming burden of this pandemic has fallen on the shoulders of devoted public servants in the health sector’.

The Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, took the floor, sharing three key points for consideration during the ongoing crisis: ‘First, the value of resilient health systems that can withstand adversity; Second, the importance of solidarity and equity; protecting others while protecting ourselves; And third, the importance of investing in the health workforce, who care for us throughout our lives, in every corner of the world.’

The necessity of better investing in preparedness of healthcare systems and the protection of public servants in the health workforce were stressed by all panelists in an interactive discussion moderated by Ms. Odette Ramsingh of South Africa.

Ms. Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses, noting that nurses make up the majority of the healthcare work force worldwide, highlighted the need for better investment in protective equipment, working conditions, and protection against high levels of violence nurses experience globally. Ms. Rosa Pavanelli, General-Secretary of Public Services International built on this, underscoring the need for strengthening labour conditions for all public servants while Mr. Jim Campbell, Director of the Health Work Force Department of the WHO, discussed how to enhance the capacity and resiliency of health systems and workforces.

Other panelists included the Minister of Health and Justice from Kerala State, India, Ms. K.K. Shailaja Teacher, and Dr. In-jae Lee, the Assistant Minister of Planning and Coordination of Republic of Korea. Both detailed how their public services and healthcare systems worked to try to halt the spread of COVID-19 through early intervention, tracing and tracking of cases.

The event, which was broadcast live on UN Web TV, also showcased a UN DESA video dedicated to public servants. The video was made possible from the submission of videos from public servants from over 40 countries. In addition, the UNSRC Symphony Orchestra performed a piece dedicated to public servants by Georges Bizet.

For more information: UN Public Service Day 2020

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