We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said is “attacking societies at their core, claiming lives and people’s livelihoods.”
Launching a new plan to counter the potentially devastating socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on 31 March, the Secretary-General called for an urgent and coordinated response that focuses on the health emergency as well as addresses the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis with an aim to build more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.
“Everything we do during and after this crisis must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face,” he added.
Projections show that there could be up to 25 million job cuts jobs globally (ILO) and up to $3.4 trillion losses in labour income (ILO). There could be a 30 to 40 per cent decline in global foreign direct investment flows (UNTACD). An estimated 1.5 billion students are now out of school (UNESCO) and children have lost access to school meal programmes.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the agency leading the UN response, offers a variety of important resources to address and cope with the crisis, including a COVID-19 website, a dedicated multilingual messaging service using WhatsApp, a Solidarity Response Fund, advice for the public and parents as well as a series of myth busters.
April’s edition of Goal of the Month, which focuses on Good Health and Well-being, looks into COVID-19’s impact on the different aspects of the development agenda — economic, social and environmental. Ahead of World Health Day (7 April), the edition also highlights the work and challenges facing the medical community, paying tribute to the courage and dedication of health care workers on the frontline of the response.
At least half of the world’s population still does not have full coverage of essential health services. About 100 million people are still being pushed into extreme poverty (living on 1.90 USD or less a day) because they have to pay for health care, says WHO.
At a time when even those with access to quality health care may not be receiving the treatment they need due to overstretched hospitals, inundated health care providers, and lack of medical and protective supplies and equipment, existing inequalities continue to widen.
“… maintaining that the scarcity of resources or insurance schemes should never justify discrimination against certain groups of patients… everybody has the right to health,” a group of UN human rights experts have declared, calling on countries to take additional social protection measures so that their support reaches those who are at most risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis.
They remain particularly concerned about people with disabilities, older people, minorities communities, refugee and internally displaced communities, those held in detention and many others living in poverty.
Learn more about human rights and the COVID-19 response, including measures to protect health and safety of people deprived of liberty, held in detention and other closed facilities, as well as growing concerns about xenophobia, hate and exclusion.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on governments to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention and other closed facilities, as part of overall efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has called for a $2.5 trillion coronavirus crisis package for developing countries to recover – through the special drawing rights (international reserves), debt cancellation and a Marshall Plan for health recovery.
In a new report, the agency says that since the virus began spreading beyond China, developing countries have taken an enormous hit in terms of capital outflows, growing bond spreads, currency depreciations and lost export earnings, including from falling commodity prices and declining tourist revenues.
Latest estimates also show that the pandemic’s impact on foreign direct investment (FDC) will be more dramatic than previously projected. UNCTAD warns that global investments could go down by 40 per cent.
The world’s top 5,000 multinational enterprises, with a significant share of the FDC, are seeing a decline in their 2020 earning estimates. Experts say that the hardest hit industries include energy and basic materials, airlines and automotive.
To access UNCTAD’s latest analysis, please visit its COVID-19 dedicated website.
UN Women says that many of the impacts of COVID-19 are hitting women hardest – including when they lose their jobs in both the formal and informal economies and disproportionately shoulder a greater burden of care. Moreover, women make up 70 per cent of the global health workforce, often risking their lives and the health of their families.
According to the UN Population Fund, the pandemic has disrupted access to critical sexual and reproductive health services and hampered authorities’ ability to respond to gender-based violence, at a time when women and girls need these services most.
Levels of domestic violence and sexual exploitation could spike, warns Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the head of UN Women, particularly when “when households are placed under the increased strains that come from security, health and money worries, and cramped and confined living conditions.”
Check out UN Women’s In Focus section on the need for a coordinated global COVID-19 response that is fully inclusive and constructed with a gender lens.
Nature is sending us a message with COVID-19, says the head of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, adding that “never before have so many opportunities existed for pathogens to pass from wild and domestic animals to people.” Today, 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases come from wildlife.
According to WHO, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change and the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase contact and the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans, also known as zoonotic diseases.
As the COVID-19 outbreak shows, zoonotic diseases “pose huge public health, biodiversity and even global security risks,” warns Daniel Mira-Salama, the World Bank Beijing Office’s Environmental Specialist.
Although the immediate priority is to protect people and prevent the pandemic’s spread, Andersen adds that “our long-term response must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss.”
UNCTAD’s deputy chief Isabelle Durant also believes that the pandemic is “triggering reflections” for nature-focused sectors such as tourism. Carbon emissions have drastically decreased in recent months leading to notable improvements in air and water quality – reminding such sectors how critical it is to pursue less carbon intensive models.
More resources on nature-based solutions are available on UNEP’s website.