Women in protective equipment
Wearing a full protective suit, a doctor leads a group of volunteer medical professionals attending to COVID-19 patients and persons under investigation at a community hospital in the Philippines.
Photo:UN Women/Louie Pacardo

As exemplified by the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic major infectious diseases and epidemics have devastating impacts on human lives, wreaking havoc on long-term social and economic development. Global health crises threaten to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people, including women and children, and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

There is an urgent need to have resilient and robust health systems, reaching those who are vulnerable or in vulnerable situations.

In the event of the absence of international attention, future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity. There is great need of raising awareness, the exchange of information, scientific knowledge and best practices, quality education, and advocacy programmes on epidemics at the local, national, regional and global levels as effective measures to prevent and respond to epidemics.

It is important to strengthen epidemic prevention by applying lessons learned on epidemic management and how to prevent the stoppage of basic services, and to raise the level of preparedness in order to have the earliest and most adequate response to any epidemic that may arise, and recognizing also the value of an integrated One Health approach that fosters integration of human health, animal health and plant health, as well as environmental and other relevant sectors.

International cooperation and multilateralism play an important role in the response to epidemics. We need to stress the significance of partnership and solidarity among every individual, community and State, and regional and international organizations, in all stages of epidemic management, as well as the importance of considering a gender perspective in this regard.

The United Nations system, in particular the World Health Organization, plays a pivotal role in coordinating responses to epidemics, in accordance with its mandate, and in supporting national, regional and international efforts to prevent, mitigate and address the impacts of infectious diseases and epidemics in accordance with the goal of advancing the 2030 Agenda.

We need to recognize the primary role and responsibility of Governments and the indispensable contribution of relevant stakeholders in tackling global health challenges, especially women, who make up the majority of the world’s health workers.

UN member states commit to ensure inclusive, equal and non-discriminatory participation, with special attention to those, who are vulnerable or in vulnerable situations with the highest chance of epidemic infection.

The UN General Assembly invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other global, regional and subregional organizations, the private sector and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, individuals and other relevant stakeholders to observe the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness annually in an appropriate manner and in accordance with national contexts and priorities, through education and awareness-raising activities, in order to highlight the importance of the prevention of, preparedness for and partnership against epidemics.

COVID-19 is a human tragedy. But it has also created a generational opportunity. An opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world. The response to the pandemic, and to the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Nelson Mandela Lecture: “Tackling the Inequality Pandemic: A New Social Contract for a New Era

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UN observances related to health

Medical worker and girl with mask

The COVID-19 pandemic is more than a health crisis; it is an economic crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a security crisis, and a human rights crisis. This crisis has highlighted severe fragilities and inequalities within and among nations. Coming out of this crisis will require a whole-of-society, whole-of-government and whole-of-the-world approach driven by compassion and solidarity. The UN Secretary-General has launched the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19 to save lives, protect societies, recover better.

 

health worker with syringe

The World Health Organization (WHO) has an essential role to play in supporting Member States to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies with public health consequences. Learn more about the pandemic and epidemic diseases on WHO's radar and its work on managing epidemics.

 

A crowd of women sitting and laughing

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.