27 March 2020 — As the coronavirus pandemic spreads to more than 200 countries and territories, killing more than 20,000 people, the United Nations is redoubling its support for frontline responders who are working around the clock to save lives.
“Healthcare workers are essentially the main response pillars that we have,” said Jan-Eric Larsen, from Operations Support and Logistics at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Western Pacific in a video tweet. “Without the healthcare workers, we won’t be able to stop this transmission in time.”
“The problem we’re facing now is a very stretched market with limited supplies,” he said, explaining that when people use those supplies irrationally, it will create a strain on the healthcare system.
Without the healthcare workers, we won’t be able to stop this transmission in time
He said that WHO, together with partners, is working to ensure that vital supplies, including protective equipment, such as aprons, gowns and masks, reach healthcare workers treating patients in wards.
Health workers need masks, gloves, gowns and goggles for protection while providing life-saving care to people with #COVID19.@WHO is dispatching equipment to countries in need across the Region to help protect frontline workers in the #coronavirus response. pic.twitter.com/jHatddmZh5— World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) March 26, 2020
WHO has published operational guidance for maintaining essential health services during an outbreak and a handbook for public health capacity-building at ground crossings and cross-border collaboration. (All guidance documents can be found here.)
With the pandemic wreaking havoc on even wealthy countries’ healthcare capacity, the question remains whether the world’s poorest countries with weaker healthcare infrastructure can handle a massive outbreak.
Doctors and nurses caring for people across the Region are unsung heroes of the #COVID19 response.@WHO Viet Nam made this video to thank them.— World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) March 25, 2020
Join in! Post your own video thanking health workers in your country for their hard work and sacrifice.
Use the hashtag #UnsungHeroes pic.twitter.com/gwUFMVlm7E
The pandemic is quickly moving to the global South, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned Friday at the joint briefing to Member States by United Nations principle organs, including the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and the UN Secretariat, in which he called for “massive global solidarity”.
COVID-19 poses serious challenges to the capacity of health systems around the world. Medical personnel are under pressure. Supplies and equipment are in urgent demand. And in many instances, temporary health infrastructure is needed to cope with the influx of patients requiring specialized treatment.
UN Country Teams
United Nations country teams are stepping up their support for national authorities. In Timor Leste, where one case has been confirmed, the United Nations is supporting Government measures to prevent a potential COVID-19 outbreak. Advised by the Resident Coordinator and WHO, the Prime Minister recently ordered to establish an Inter-Ministerial Task Force for coordinated activities to fight COVID-19. The UN team is also siding with a range of partners, including news outlets, civil society organizations, businesses, youth representatives, and women leaders for a whole-of-society approach to prevention, preparedness, and response against COVID-19.
In South Sudan, while there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases according to WHO figures, the UN team is working with authorities to support national preparedness and response plan for COVID-19. A laboratory with capacity to test COVID-19 has just been set up. The UN has also supported the construction of a multi-purpose infectious disease unit to isolate and treat suspected cases. Also, health workers have been trained to enhance surveillance and early detection, investigate suspected cases and manage patients with COVID-19 related symptoms.
In Argentina, the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is supporting COVID-19 response efforts by helping to urgently procure 10 fully-equipped emergency modular units, which will provide 824 extra inpatient therapy beds. One-third of the space will be dedicated to intensive care units.
“Our team of qualified advisors, architects, engineers, project managers and specialists is eager to help countries, where needed, to address their health-related infrastructure needs during this crisis,” said UNOPS Director of Implementation Practices and Standards, Nick O'Regan.
UNOPS also stands ready to support partners' emergency procurement needs through its global e-commerce solution, UN Web Buy Plus. This includes the supply of ambulances, transportable biosafety labs, mobile health clinics and prefabricated buildings that can be used as temporary health posts.
In Guatemala, UNOPS is assisting with the procurement of urgent medical items to diagnose, treat and monitor patients infected with COVID-19. It is also advising on mitigation actions that will help to ensure that the provision of existing healthcare services continues as planned – including the purchase of essential medicines and equipment.
In Afghanistan, UNOPS is working with the WHO to raise awareness and provide information on COVID-19 through a call centre. In February the centre received 144 calls from 22 provinces enquiring about COVID-19. From 1 March to 14 March, it registered 185 enquiries about COVID-19 from 28 different provinces.
UN Donates Face Masks to New York City
The United Nations is donating 250,000 protective face masks to the medical professionals in New York City who have been working courageously, selflessly, and tirelessly in response to the spread of COVID-19. “To us, New York is not just our home or the headquarters of the United Nations,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “It is a vibrant international capital through which the world communicates, debates, trades, and prospers.”
I'm pleased to announce, with @USAmbUN Kelly Craft, the donation to the USA of 250,000 protective face masks, just located in storage at the @UN.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) March 28, 2020
These masks will be given to medical professionals in NYC working courageously & tirelessly in response to #COVID19. pic.twitter.com/Cqh1rQWMV6
Research and Development
WHO is also assisting COVID-19 research, bringing together 300 scientists, researchers, national public health experts across the world on COVID-19 in February to assess the current level of knowledge about the new virus, agree on critical research questions that need to be answered urgently and ways to work together to accelerate and fund priority research that can contribute to curtail this outbreak and prepare for future outbreaks.
Experts identified key knowledge gaps, and research priorities and shared scientific data on ongoing research, thereby accelerating the generation of critical scientific information to contribute to the control the COVID 19 emergency.
WHO is gathering the latest scientific findings and knowledge on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and compiling it in a database.