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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rolando Gómez of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Food and Agricultural Organization.

WHO Announcements

Margaret Harris for the World Health Organization (WHO), said today (November 17) was Cervical Cancer Elimination Day of Action, which aimed to raise awareness about the lifesaving ability of the Cervical Cancer vaccine. Tomorrow (November 18) marked the start of World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week 2023, which was designated as a top 10 public health priority. Ms. Harris also said that a 10 million USD Afghanistan appeal was launched yesterday by WHO for those returning from Pakistan to Afghanistan, who were in dire need.

Update on health issues in Gaza

Dr Richard Peeperkorn, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, speaking from Jerusalem, said WHO had received news that a mechanism had been established for the entry of fuel into Gaza. It was hoped that this mechanism would be sustained so that UNWRA could do its job. The health system was extremely volatile and WHO had difficulties connecting with staff. The updates on injuries and deaths were not received which made it harder to anaylse the functioning of the health system. The health system was on its knees. Currently 65 per cent of primary care facilities and 69 per cent of hospitals were not functioning. This was not enough to support the needs arising due to the hostilities. Prior to the conflict there were around 3,500 hospital beds across Gaza; today there were an estimated 1,400. WHO was extremely concerned about the spread of diseases as the rainy season and winter approached. Since mid-October there had been increased cases of acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and chickenpox.

WHO’s operational plan for the next 90 days required a budget of 110 million USD. It was vital to maintain the continuation of health services, particularly primary health care. There needed to be an organised medical evacuation into Egypt, and an endless supply of logistic support and coordination. WHO required much more flexible funding, as did the entire flash appeal of 1.2 billion USD. There was a need to establish a mechanism over the next three months, to ensure that 15,000 patients could be transferred to Egypt where they would receive the right treatment and care. This would relieve part of the overwhelmed current health system and ensure the health workers in Gaza could carry out their work.

Responding to questions, Dr. Peeperkorn, said WHO had received reports that a mechanism was established for fuel. It was hoped this mechanism would be sustained over the coming months. On a question about weapons found in Al-Shifa hospital, Dr. Peeperkorn said WHO was focussed on healthcare. Comments had been made by the legal counsel of WHO regarding this issue.

The communication with staff had been very difficult. WHO had 30 staff on the ground in Gaza. There were WhatsApp groups in place to support staff and keep their spirits up. Two warehouses had been established and the agency had distributed supplies to seven hospitals all over Gaza. The fuel mechanism was key for all operations, including communication. WHO was extremely worried about the safety of patients, health workers and internally displaced persons sheltering at Al-Shifa and other hospitals. Under international humanitarian law, health facilities, ambulances and patients must be safeguarded against all actions of war. Health care should never be a target.

Responding to further questions, Dr. Peeperkorn said there was a desperate need and desire for a sustained flow of trucks into Gaza for months to come. Before the escalation of the war, Gaza received 500 trucks a day. Since then, there had been a limited number of trucks entering. All humanitarian agencies wanted flexible funding to ensure they could make the best plans on the ground.

WHO needed to establish a mechanism to ensure patients could be referred properly and safely and into Egypt. Prior to the conflict, Gaza had a health system that was producing health indicators on par with neighbouring countries. There should be field hospitals strategically located. This was critically important. WHO was extremely concerned about the spread of diseases. There was complete overcrowding in shelters and a lack of water and sanitation across Gaza.

The mechanism had been reported and it was hoped WHO would be better informed during the day on what this entailed. It should ensure that UNRWA core operations were operational; that bakeries could have fuel to operate; that the connection was restored; and that WHO could make sure that hospitals received the fuel they needed to run their operations.

Dr. Peeperkorn said WHO was focused on a 110 million USD appeal, as the organisation needed more flexible resources. On the report of raids in Al-Shifa hospital and technicians being detained, no more information had been received. Reports had also been received that the use of force during these raids had caused damage to hospital equipment. WHO hoped to get to Al-Shifa soon and establish a mechanism for medically evacuating critical patients. WHO had lost communication with health workers and did not have any additional information on what had occurred in Al-Shifa hospital.

Significant advances by anti- military forces in Myanmar

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Office was closely monitoring developments in Myanmar where anti-military armed groups and their allies had made significant advances, and several hundred soldiers had reportedly chosen to lay down their weapons. It was essential that all those captured were treated humanely and that all parties strictly respected international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In the fighting so far, it was reported that around 70 civilians had been killed and over 90 wounded, with more than 200,000 internally displaced since 27 October. OHCHR was alarmed by renewed fighting between the military and Arakan Army in Rakhine State after an informal 12-month ceasefire, which posed grave risks to both the ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya communities. The Office called on Member States, especially those with influence upon the parties, to intervene with intensified efforts to end the crisis and protect the civilian population, and to renew pressure for the peaceful transfer of power to a representative, civilian government.

The full statement can be viewed here.

Rolando Gómez for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) reiterated a statement shared on Wednesday by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who expressed deep concern at the expansion of the conflict, and called on all parties to adhere to international humanitarian law, and to do their utmost to protect civilians.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laurence said the Office was calling on the international community to put an end to the violence, chaos and civilian killings. Several reports had been issued over the past two years pointing at these violations, and specifically asking States with influence to take action, including through targeted sanctions. First and foremost was a return to civilian rule. OHCHR called for a representative return to government.

Violence in Darfur, Sudan

Jeremy Laurence, for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said the Office was extremely alarmed by reports that the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their allied Arab militia had killed hundreds of ethnic Masalit civilians in Ardamata town earlier this month, in yet another ethnically motivated mass attack. Preliminary information suggested Masalit civilians suffered six days of terror at the hands of the RSF and its allied militia after they took control of the Sudanese army’s base in Ardamata on 4 November. Some of the victims were summarily executed or burnt alive. Thousands had been displaced, some crossing the border to Chad. On 5 November alone, 66 Masalit men were summarily executed in three separate incidents. Between May and June 2023, hundreds of Masalit men, women, and children – including the Governor of West Darfur – were killed. Many of them were buried in mass graves while the bodies of others were left in the streets. Such attacks could constitute crimes under international law. Amid worrying reports of an imminent RSF assault on El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, OHCHR reminded all parties to the conflict to respect their international humanitarian law obligations, to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

The full statement can be viewed here.

Rolando Gómez for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said a statement had been shared from the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Africa to the Security Council, who said the conflict had intensified in recent weeks with no sign of abating.

Responding to questions, Mr. Laurence said there were alarm bells ringing, particularly in Darfur. There were real concerns over what was happening in the north of the country. A close eye needed to be kept on Sudan. OHCHR appealed to the international community and the media to keep a sharp focus on the tragic events occurring. Reports were being received from credible witnesses and survivors on the ground. OHCHR systematically scrutinised all information received and had been following the situation in Darfur very closely.

Severe floods affect thousands of people in the Horn of Africa

William Spindler, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said thousands of displaced families, including refugees in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, were on the move again, escaping severe floods caused by ongoing heavy rains across the region.

Since the beginning of November, more than 795,000 displacements had been recorded in Somalia. In Ethiopia’s Somali Region, authorities estimated that more than 20 people had died, while over half a million people had been affected by flash floods. Close to 40,000 families, or around 240,000 people, including those seeking safety from ongoing conflict in Somalia, had been displaced. Across five settlements, 213,000 refugees had also suffered the effects of the flooding. Beyond displacement, people’s livelihoods had been gravely affected and the sanitation situation was disturbing. UNHCR and partners were distributing relief items to the newly displaced, as well as dignity kits to affected women and girls. Families were also receiving cash assistance to buy local building materials and meet other urgent needs. Sandbags had been provided to protect people from flood waters. Urgent donor support was needed to deliver assistance and protection and to save lives as the rains continued.

The full statement can be viewed here.

The urgency of tackling antimicrobial resistance through a One Health approach

Junxia Song, Senior Animal Health Officer of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Animal Production and Health Division, speaking from Rome, said antimicrobial resistance (AMR) posed a significant threat to healthy and sustainable agrifood systems, the future of the planet, and economic growth. Drug resistance occurred when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer responded to antimicrobial agents. It was estimated that in 2019, five million human deaths worldwide were associated with bacterial antimicrobial resistance, of which 1.3 million human deaths were directly due to it. Antimicrobial resistant microorganisms significantly impacted the agrifood sector, leading to economic losses, reduced livestock production, poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. If AMR was not addressed, up to 28 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2050. FAO had developed an International FAO Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring IT system (InFARM), designed to strengthen capacity at country level by gathering, analyzing, and effectively using AMR data within the domains of food and agriculture.

Earlier this week, FAO, in partnership with UNEP, WHO and WOAH – collectively known as the Quadripartite - hosted the first Plenary Assembly of the Antimicrobial Resistance Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Platform. The platform aimed to bring together relevant stakeholders across the human, animal, plant, and environment sectors to assist in preserving antimicrobials as lifesaving medicines. Every year, from 18 to 24 November, the world celebrated World AMR Awareness Week, to raise awareness and encourage the public, health workers, farmers and producers, agricultural and animal health professionals, and policymakers to adopt best practices to prevent the further spread of drug-resistant infections. The misuse and overuse of antimicrobials were the primary drivers of AMR. Therefore, adopting a whole-of-society and multi-sectoral approach was essential to address this global issue effectively.

Responding to questions, Ms. Song said a report had been released, which stated that at least one third of countries used antimicrobials as growth promoters. FAO was working on a ten-year initiative focusing on reducing the need, which would provide comprehensive support to the country including through better vaccines and alternatives. Overuse in antimicrobials depended on the geographical areas and their farming systems. Each sector was very different.

Ms. Song said the challenges could be seen from different levels, including capacity. The InFARM platform tried to obtain more qualified data at a farm level. Another challenge was awareness. FAO tried to promote a sustainable transformation, where reducing the need was part of the solution. Good results had been achieved during a pilot project in Africa, which had seen a reduced use of antimicrobials. Currently there were no labelling programmes for food in place, but discussions were being held on this topic.

Announcements

Rolando Gómez for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said the Committee Against Torture was meeting on Monday 20 November, to hear concluding observations, before the Committee concluded its 78th session next Friday, after reviewing the reports of Burundi, Costa Rica, Kiribati, Denmark, Egypt and Slovenia.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would open its 111th session on Monday the 20 November, and would review the reports of Bolivia, Morocco, Germany, South Africa, Bulgaria and Vietnam.

Today the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review would adopt the reports of the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Cameroon and Cuba.

A press conference was being hosted at WIPO at 4pm this afternoon, for Creators Learn International Property (CLIP). WIPO Director General, Darren Tang, would be among the speakers.

This Saturday, November 19, was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which shone a light on the dark reality that every year, 1.35 million lives were cut short because of road accidents. Full message here.

Saturday November 19 also marked World Toilet Day, which shed light on the millions of people around the world with poor sanitation access. Full message here.

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