More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 05 - May 2020

We must act together to beat COVID-19 in Africa

By Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, UNAIDS

The COVID-19 outbreak has been placing unprecedented strains on sophisticated health systems in Europe and Asia, with overstretched medical staff struggling to treat their patients and intensive care facilities overwhelmed in rich countries. With cases rising in Africa, concerns are increasing on the impact on fragile health systems there. This crisis is already exposing glaring inequalities between the rich and the poor in the developed world, and it is about to reflect even greater inequalities between the North and the South.

This health crisis, like others, is hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest, especially in Africa. What does social distancing mean in Africa’s congested townships, its packed markets and buses. How will people wash their hands several times a day to protect themselves from the virus without having access to water and basic sanitation? And what does that mean for women and girls who bear the daily burden of hauling water from rivers and wells for their households? How will a mother choose between going to work to put food on the table or staying at home with a cough or a fever? How do we tell informal workers, taxi drivers and all those who operate in the platform economy and live hand-to-mouth not to go to work?

We need to act now! There are four things we must do urgently: scale up testing and isolate infected people and communities, invest in health and protect our healthcare workers, focus on the community to ensure that the community response is strong, and have a constant supply chain.

The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 million testing kits will be necessary to respond to COVID-19 effectively over the next three months. Hundreds of millions of personal protective items such as face masks, protective gowns and gloves will also be needed. At a time when there is a global demand for these medical supplies, Africa must not be left behind. As we have seen in other countries, the best way to reduce infections and deaths is to test, treat and isolate infected people and communities to contain the virus. So, the supply of testing equipment and access to testing must be the priority.

A lack of investment in Africa’s social infrastructure, including in its health systems, mounting debt and massive corporate tax dodging has left the continent ill-prepared to face this coming emergency. Without publicly provided health care, people are left exposed to disease. User fees for accessing health services deny ordinary people their right to health. This is the time to abolish them. Rich countries are rightly pumping billions of dollars into their own economies and social security systems to keep people and businesses afloat, but will there be massive coordinated international financial support for the developing countries to fight Covid-19? We are in this together. Nothing but a global response will defeat this aggressive virus.

In responding to the HIV epidemic, community-led services have been core to our most important advances in preventing new infections and getting people on treatment. In the response to COVID-19, communities will no doubt step into the breach and public health authorities must engage with them now and build trust for the upcoming battle. We will not win without communities. It is communities who will design and implement their own context specific prevention measures, in markets, in buses, at funerals. As we have seen in the AIDS response, it will most often be women who will lead the charge in terms of caring for the sick and making sure that their children and communities are as safe as possible. We must ensure that resources flow to them so that they can carry on their important work, that they are fairly compensated and that their families are financially secure.

And the response must respect the human rights of the most vulnerable. There have already been incidents all over the world where individuals or communities are being blamed for the virus. This must stop. It’s wrong and counter-productive for the wider public good. Let us learn the lessons of the AIDS response and know that stigma and discrimination will hold us back in getting to grips with this pandemic.

In addition, to make sure that medicines continue to reach people in need, we must ensure the security of the global supply chain in this period. UNAIDS is working closely with all its partners to make sure that essential medicines and medical supplies continue to get to where they are most needed. We will continue to do so.

I wish we were in a different place. That everyone had the right to health and that we were in a stronger position to face this new challenge. That debate will continue and my voice will stay strong. For now, we must do the best we can for our communities.

Let us help and support each other during this time – we are all in this together and we will beat this virus through solidarity, compassion, and kindness.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

SDG 10 in numbers

Inequality within and among countries is a persistent cause for concern, despite progress in some areas.

Income inequality continues to rise in many parts of the world, even as the poorest 40 per cent of the population in most countries experience income growth.

Greater focus is needed to reduce income and other inequalities, including those related to labour market access and trade. Specifically, additional efforts are needed to further increase zero-tariff access for exports from poorer countries, and to provide technical assistance to LDCs and small island developing States seeking to benefit from preferential trade status.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 10 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

Latest economic prospects for the post-COVID-19 world

With nearly half of the world’s population in lockdowns and 100 countries closing national borders, the pandemic has unleashed a health and economic crisis unprecedented in scope and magnitude. The world economy is projected to experience its deepest downturn since the Great Depression.

Millions of people have already joined the ranks of the unemployed and Governments are rolling out large stimulus packages to fight the pandemic and minimize the impact of a catastrophic economic downturn.

The pace and sequence of recovery from the crisis will largely depend on the efficacy of public health and fiscal measures and their success in containing the spread of the virus, minimizing risks of reinfection, restoring consumer confidence and reopening of the economies.

Join us on Wednesday, 13 May, as we launch the World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid‑2020. UN Chief Economist and Assistant-Secretary-General at UN DESA, Elliott Harris, and Hamid Rashid, Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Unit of UN DESA, will present the economic forecasts for major countries and regions, highlighting the macroeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy responses and the post-crisis recovery scenario.

The report will be available on 13 May at

Watch the launch live at


Guiding the UN Development System to ensure results for people

More than 40 organizations that make up the UN development system (UNDS) carry out the operational activities for development of the UN throughout the world. The overarching objective of these activities is to support efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and they include both activities with development and humanitarian focus.

Every four years, Member States provide guidance on how this work should be delivered in a key policy document, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR). This year marks the end of the 2016 QCPR cycle and this month, Member States will come together at ECOSOC’s Operational Activities Segment (OAS) to review the UNDS achievements over the past four years and consider how best to guide the UNDS for the next four years.

During the first module of the QCPR UNITAR training series, the Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the key role of the OAS in guiding and overseeing the UNDS.

This year, the segment will also assess the transformation of the UN development system through the bold reforms introduced in the past two years to make the UN better fit for purpose, in the context of the 2030 Agenda.  In addition, the segment will discuss the unprecedented upheavals brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, which are testing both the flexibility and fitness of the system. Finally, in view of the necessity for social distancing, consideration is being given to hold the segment in a virtual format.

The preparations for these deliberations have started with the release of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the QCPR on 24 April, and the start of a training series on the QCPR, co-organized by UNITAR and DESA, with the support of the Government of Switzerland. The first virtual training module took place on 24 April with over 200 participants, and four additional modules are planned to take place over the next months.

The discussions held at the Segment will lay the foundation for the General Assembly deliberations on the 2020 QCPR in the fall, when Member States will set out the strategy and policy direction for the next four years. The new QCPR cycle will be born in the most extraordinary circumstances the UN has seen in its 75 years, as Member States set the direction for the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and the acceleration of progress to achieve the 2030 Agenda during the Decade of Action.

For more information: The 2020 Operational Activities for Development Segment

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