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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE UNITED NATIONS INFORMATION SERVICE

Bi-Weekly Briefing

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) in Geneva, chaired the hybrid briefing, attended by the spokespersons and representatives of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the World Health Organisation, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Labour Organization, and the United Nations High Commissiones for Refugees. 

Monkeypox Outbreak

Dr Rosamund Lewis, Head, Smallpox Secretariat, World Health Organisation Emergencies Programme, said that there had been a multi-country outbreak of monkeypox. WHO had been aware of the disease for a long time. As of 22 May, there had been over 250 confirmed and suspected cases officially reported through 16 WHO member States. Additional cases were expected and would continue to be investigated. There were several countries in which the disease was endemic. The virus was normally found in animals, with a few cases in urban areas and travellers.

Monkeypox symptoms started with a fever, followed by a rash that emerged after a few days and continued for two to four weeks, followed by swollen lymph nodes. It was called monkeypox because it was initially discovered in monkeys.

Usually, clusters were small. Risk of infection was higher for people who had close contact with an infected person. WHO’s intention was to contain the outbreak. The risk to the general population was low. The disease could affect anyone, and WHO called on all people who believed that they had contracted the disease to seek medical help and isolate.

WHO was working with countries to develop the appropriate mechanisms through which to report on the clinical features of the cases.

In response to questions on the outbreak, Ms. Lewis said that the WHO was analysing what it had been observed regarding the outbreak, for example that cases occurred primarily in men in their thirties who identified as homosexual or bisexual; however it was too early to say whether the disease was sexually transmitted. The disease was known to transmit through skin-to-skin contact, however it was not known whether the disease was transmitted through bodily fluids.

The number of cases was higher in certain countries where gatherings had recently been held, and WHO was advising people planning to attend large gatherings in the days ahead to be mindful and careful of the disease.  WHO would not speculate on where outbreaks had occurred until it had more concrete information from national health authorities, the investigations of which WHO was supporting.

There was no information available about fomite transmission (transmission via surfaces), however bedding and clothing that had been in contact with the rash caused by the disease were possible sources of transmission.

WHO held vaccine stockpiles for smallpox, however these were developed over 40 years ago and needed to be reviewed. There were also newer versions of vaccines available but supplies of these were limited and production had to be increased if needed. The outbreak could be contained through isolation and contact tracing.

The first case of monkeypox was found in a child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970. At the time, most of the world was vaccinated against smallpox, which is a potential reason why there was not a major outbreak. There had since been rising numbers of reported cases, but not all of these could be confirmed. There had been a reported outbreak in 2017 in Nigeria, and there appeared to be another outbreak in various countries this year.

Historical studies had suggested that smallpox vaccines had been up to 85 per cent effective against monkeypox, however updated studies were needed to confirm the effectiveness of modern vaccines.

Every country in the world had access to vaccines, but WHO did not have information on vaccine stockpiles. It was working to obtain this information, but only countries could inform on their own situation regarding vaccine availability.

Tarik Jašarević for the World Health Organisation said that a high percentage of homosexual persons sought health care, and this may be one reason for the high percentage of reported cases amongst this group. WHO warned the media against linking the disease with sexual orientation and stigmatizing LGBTI persons through reporting of the outbreak.

World Health Assembly

Fadela Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said that today, the new WHO Director-General would be appointed by the World Health Assembly (WHA). The Sustainable Financing Decision would also be addressed at the WHA this week. Today, a technical roundtable, “Urgent paradigm shift towards preventing disease and promoting health: Economics of Health for All,” would also be held as part of the Assembly. The list of delegates was available on the World Health Assembly website.

In response to questions, Ms. Chaib said that WHO was doing its best to give information to the press as soon as possible.

The Director-General would be elected by secret ballot, and a breakdown of voting would not be provided. A candidate needed to receive two-thirds of votes to be elected. The elected Directed-General would give a speech after election.

Dr. Tedros had released a report on the health situation in Ukraine in six languages, and a draft resolution condemning the situation in Ukraine had been prepared.

Rising Forced Displacement Numbers

Dominique Hyde, Director of External Relations, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that there was an extremely worrying trend of enforced displacement, with the total number of victims rising to above 100 million.

The number rose to 90 million at the end of 2021, propelled by new waves of violence or protracted conflict in countries including Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Myanmar, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This figure then recently rose to 100 million, affected by the war in Ukraine, which had displaced 8 million within the country this year. More than 6 million refugee movements from Ukraine had also been registered.

Over half of the 100 million were internally displaced persons due to the conflict, according to a recent report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). This was an incredibly stark and alarming figure; a record that should never have been set. It was equivalent to more than one per cent of the global population, and to the 14th most populous country in the world.

The war in Ukraine had exacerbated the situation. There was increasing fuel and food prices everywhere and supply disruptions, and this affected displaced persons and other vulnerable groups particularly. The High Commissioner would give more information on this situation in the Global Trends Report, due to be released on 16 June.

UNHCR wanted this milestone to be a wake-up call to the world to resolve conflicts and address the underlying causes of displacement. The organisation could not reverse the trend on its own. It needed help from the whole of society, and Governments especially, around the world to end conflicts. Refugees needed access to health care and job opportunities. Many people wanted their Governments to open the doors to refugees, and this was the aim of the Global Compact on Refugees endorsed in 2018.

There had been an outpouring of financial and other forms of support in response to the situation in Ukraine, and the response in Ukraine was 56 per cent funded. However, a similar response was needed for all crises. Most countries that hosted refugees did not have the resources to accommodate them. Further, UNHCR missions in countries other than Ukraine, such as those in North Africa and the Horn of Africa region, were less than 10 per cent funded. UNHCR required 10.5 billion USD in funding to respond to humanitarian needs.

The UNHCR High Commissioner was currently in Bangladesh, where attracting funding and media attention was challenging. Five years had passed since the massive displacement of the Rohingya people into Bangladesh and the crisis was on-going.

Humanitarian assistance alone would not solve the problem of displacement. To reverse the trend, society needed to create conditions for stability and shared prosperity so that innocent people could return home and were not forced to exile.

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service, reported that the UN Secretary-General said yesterday that this was not a refugee crisis, as refugees were not the cause. It was a political crisis, he said, and it would only be solved with solidarity and political will.

In response to questions, Ms. Hyde said that the Global Trends Report would give a detailed breakdown of refugee status. There were serious concerns for Eastern Africa, the Central African Republic and Venezuela, where the UNHCR was not able to meet refugees’ needs.

This was the largest number of displaced persons in recorded history, Ms. Hyde said, and the number continued to grow.

Both internally displaced persons and refugees were displaced because of internal conflict. There had been a call from the Secretary-General for a different focus on internally displaced persons. Both refugees and internally displaced persons had been forced to flee their homes but did not have access to the same rights in some cases. The UNHCR would continue to support both refugees and internally displaced persons, but for legal reasons, differentiate between refugees and internally displaced persons.

World Telecommunication Development Conference

Sulyna Abdullah, Chief, Digital Knowledge Hub Department, Telecommunications Sector, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), announced that ITU would host its World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Kigali, Rwanda, between 6 and 16 June.

The conference took place once every four years. It would attract around 1,000 delegates from ITU’s member States to agree on regional priorities for digitally led development. Topics to be discussed included methods of accelerating access to ICTs so that technology could be harnessed to drive development and reenergize progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Almost one third of the world had no access to the Internet, and a large percentage were held back by unreliable, slow or inaccessible technology. Digital devices remained too costly for many, and a lack of digital skills meant that many people were unable to leverage the power of connectivity. The Internet lacked the linguistic diversity needed to help the populations that did not speak the languages that dominated it. The aim of the Conference was to address these issues.

There were new features of this year’s conference focusing on youth, partnership, women leadership, and the ITU’s Global Connectivity Report.

The Generation Connect Global Youth Summit would be held on 2-4 June, welcoming around 400 youth aged between 18 to 29 from Africa and around the world in person, and an estimated 5,000 more joining online.  

The Partner to Connect Digital Coalition Roundtable Programme would be held for the first time from 7 to 9 June. This Programme brought in leading players from the private sector, and ITU was expecting to announce more than 120 connectivity pledges from partners around the world.

A new Global Connectivity Report would also be launched with a press conference held on 6 June, with an informal chat with connectivity experts planned within a few days of the press conference. This report examined the state of connectivity around the world, and offered in-depth analysis on the barriers and issues still needing to be resolved. The report would include hard data and charts that could be drawn upon in media reports.    

A series of WTDC Network of Women events would also be held to promote leadership opportunities for women in the digital sector and the international arena.  

Media personnel wishing to participate can send an email to pressreg@itu.int expressing their interest in attending the event either in-person or online. They can also register here and read the media advisory here.

World Summit on the Information Society

M​onika Gehner, Head, Strategic C​ommunication, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), announced that this year’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum would culminate between 30 May and 3 June with a week of interactive high-level dialogues, ministerial roundtables, and award ceremonies for digital innovation to support sustainable economies and societies.

These final sessions would conclude 11 weeks of debates and discussions among leaders and influencers aiming to drive sustainable digital transformation around the world. Ceremonies would include the awarding of the WSIS Prizes 2022, an award for the Hackathon on ICTs for Indigenous Languages, and the WSIS “Healthy Ageing and Innovation” prize, an award for digital solutions to support aging society.

The event would take place at ITU, with remote attendance possible. Register for the event here.

International Labour Conference

Isabel Piquer Hubert, for the International Labour Organization (ILO), announced that the 110th session of the International Labour Conference (ILC) would take place between 27 May and 11 June 2022. The Conference would be held in hybrid format, with delegates attending in person in Geneva as well as virtually.

The ILC’s opening sitting would be held virtually on 27 May. Committees would begin their work on 30 May. Plenary sittings would be held between 6 and 11 June. The high-level World of Work Summit would take place on 10 June. The Conference would close on 11 June. Interested persons could register online.

Among the items on the agenda was a possible amendment of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 1998 to include safe and healthy working conditions.

Announcements

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that the launch of the report of the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance led by UNCTAD Secretary-General had been slightly delayed. It was expected to be published this Thursday, 26 May.

Ms. Huissoud also announced that the UNCTAD’s World Investment Report was scheduled to be released on 9 June.

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child (90th session, 3 May to 3 June) was concluding this morning its review of the report of Zambia. This afternoon, at 3pm, it would begin its review of the report of Chile, to be concluded tomorrow morning. This was the last country review for this session.

The Conference on Disarmament was this morning holding a public plenary meeting under the presidency of Ambassador Juan Antonio Quintanilla Román of Cuba. The Cuban presidency would continue until the end of this week.

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