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Bi-Weekly Briefing

Rhéal LeBlanc, Chief of the Press and External Relations Section at the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the hybrid press briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons of UNAIDS, the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization.

Situation in the Sahel

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service (UNIS), referred to the Secretary-General’s remarks at the Security Council the previous day, where he had said that 49 million people in 43 countries were only one step away from famine, and the war in Ukraine was exacerbating the situation. Price increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods threatened people in countries across Africa and the Middle East. “When war is waged, people go hungry,” stressed the Secretary-General in his speech. Mr. LeBlanc added that the Secretary-General was calling for countries to take four actions to break the deadly dynamic of conflict and hunger, including investing in political solution to end conflicts; the Security Council’s role in demanding adherence to international humanitarian law; greater coordination and leadership on the interconnected risks of food insecurity, energy and financing; and the full funding of humanitarian appeals.

Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that up to 18 million people in the Sahel region would face food insecurity over next three months. If aid operations were not scaled up, the numbers of the severely malnourished, including 1.8 million children, would dramatically increase by the end of the year. To help people meet their most urgent needs, USD 30 million was being released from the Central Emergency Relief Fund for the four countries in need: Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Chad. That was no substitute, however, for more meaningful donor support. Earlier this year, the humanitarian community had launched six humanitarian appeals in the Sahel for a total of USD 3.8 billion to provide aid in 2022. However, nearly halfway through the year, the appeals were less than 12 per cent funded. It was impossible to state with certainty to what degree such low levels of funding were caused by the Ukraine crisis.

Tomson Phiri, for the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that the needs were sky-high in the Sahel while the funds were at rock-bottom. In Burkina Faso, the WFP had had to cut rations to between 50 and 75 per cent; in Chad, the WFP had reduced its emergency rations for internally displaced people and refugees to half. If no financial support was received soon, the WFP would have no choice but to reduce rations even further from July on. Life was getting harder because of the droughts, and farmers had to sell their cattle at low prices, a local resident was quoted as saying. Mr. Phiri explained that the Sahel region was affected by numerous adverse factors, including conflict, COVID-19, climate change, and food price shocks.

Replying to questions, Mr. Phiri stressed that even for the Ukraine crisis, the response to which was relatively well funded, there were still shortages in resources. The world had been moving from one crisis to another; donors were giving, but the needs were astronomically high and were outpacing available resources. It had to be borne in mind that some of the donor countries were also in the process of recovery from the pandemic. Mr. Phiri said that the global rise in food prices was being felt in the region where many countries were experiencing debt and fiscal crises and did not have the means to absorb such shocks. As the region was entering the lean season, malnutrition could easily get worse.

Impact of the Ukraine war on people living with HIV

Ben Phillips, for UNAIDS, said that 260,000 Ukrainians were living with HIV, for whom taking daily antiretroviral therapy was essential. While there had been great success in bringing necessary supplies into the country, there was a risk of many Ukrainians living with HIV not being able to receive their therapies. As of 3 May 2022, 39 antiretroviral therapy sites had been closed, fewer people were being diagnosed and fewer people were starting HIV treatment. Grassroots volunteers were making medicine drops where they were most needed, but those organizations were extremely stretched. More information on the grassroots work in Ukraine can be found here.

Unitaid’s 15th anniversary and the impact of innovations on global health

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, read parts of the Secretary-General’s message on the 15th anniversary of Unitaid. Thanks to Unitaid, the Secretary-General said, more people across Africa had access to the best HIV treatments at a fraction of the original price. Young children had been cured of tuberculosis with high-quality formulations that were easy to administer. Millions of young people were better protected against malaria through large-scale seasonal delivery of medicines, an approach that had dramatically reduced child mortality without raising costs.

Herve Verhoosel, for Unitaid, reminded correspondents that Unitaid’s work tackles the most pressing global health challenges – including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and the health of women and children – by simplifying tools and treatments and accelerating access to innovation. Working alongside key partners in global health, Unitaid targeted one of the greatest challenges in innovation – closing the gap between late-stage development of health products and their widespread adoption at scale. Unitaid was now applying its expertise to the COVID-19 response, as a leading agency in the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A).

Mr. Verhoosel also spoke of his recent trip to Kenya, where still some children born to HIV-positive mothers were infected by the virus. Ten per cent of all newly HIV-infected people in Kenya were children; thanks to Unitaid’s innovations, children’s access to HIV medicine was facilitated in Kenya and around the world, saving millions of lives. Equitable access to innovation was important and had to be made available as soon as possible, added Mr. Verhoosel. It was important to invest in innovations smartly, and the return on such investments in low- and middle-income countries was very significant. The roles played by the former presidents of France and Brazil, Jacques Chirac and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, were very significant for the history of Unitaid, stressed Mr. Verhoosel in a response to a question.

World Health Assembly

Fadéla Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), stated that in the morning on 22 May there would be a Walk the Talk event at Place des Nations in Geneva, which would include several sports activities. Dr. Tedros would deliver remarks, and UN Geneva Director-General Tatiana Valovaya would take part in the walk. Press and photo opportunities would be available.

The World Health Assembly would formally open its 75th session in Room XIX at Palais des Nations at 2 p.m. The President of the outgoing WHA would open the session, and a new President would be elected, this time from the Eastern Mediterranean region. Nine high-level guests, including five presidents, one vice-president, and one prime minister, would attend the opening meeting; six of them would be physically present in the room, and the list would be shared with the media this afternoon. On the same day, the WHO Director-General would deliver awards to six people who made a difference for global health. On 23 May, there would be a presidential address by the newly elected WHA President; around 2 p.m. Dr. Tedros would deliver his main address. More information on #WHA75 is available here.

Responding to questions, Ms. Chaib said that the detailed, updated list of participants would be available at the website on 21 May in the evening. WHO budget portal, providing information on budget and funding was up to date and very comprehensive, said Ms. Chaib. Accredited journalists were allowed in the designated press areas in the meeting rooms, she confirmed. Space was limited, however; the whole session would also be livestreamed on the WHA page. Briefings were planned for 24 and 26 May; thematic briefings could be organized on request. Four technical roundtables would be organized over lunch time during the week, which would be opened to media representatives physically present; the first roundtable would be on sustainable financing.

Regarding monkeypox, Ms. Chaib replied that she would share the latest statistics and an updated fact sheet shortly. Ten non-endemic countries had reported cases of monkeypox, some of which had been made through media. Monkeypox was endemic in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria, so it was quite unusual to see cases of monkeypox outside of this area.

Syria: meeting of the Constitutional Committee Small Body in Geneva

Rhéal LeBlanc, for the United Nations Information Service, announced that the Eighth Session of the Constitutional Committee Small Body would convene in Geneva from 30 May to 3 June. The Constitutional Committee would be meeting in closed sessions and off-site, but the Office of the UN Special Envoy for Syria would endeavour to inform the media of developments and media opportunities. On 27 May, schedule permitting, the Special Envoy for Syria would update the media during the regularly scheduled Palais briefing.


James Elder, for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said on 24 May, at 2 a.m. Geneva time, a new report card would be launched on rich countries and children, using latest comparable data. The report looked at how rich countries were providing services to children in those countries, but at the expense of children in poorer countries. Interviews with experts were possible before the launch.

Amalia Navarro, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informed that on 24 May, the Global Crisis Response Group would release its second report. The UNCTAD Secretary-General would present the report in Room B-128, and be available for interviews. The report would be succinct, yet with a wealth of data and infographics.

Ben Phillips, for UNAIDS, announced that, ahead of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director, stated that the economic recovery and health security strategies were set for catastrophic failures if they did not do more to tackle inequality. Current policies were sexist and racist and would pull back global economic recovery. At WEF in Davos, Ms. Byanyima would be calling for a transformational approach, said Mr. Phillips. She would attend both the Davos meeting and the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Fadéla Chaib, for the World Health Organization (WHO), announced that the World Health Statistics Report would be shared today; WHO experts were available to talk to the media.

Rhéal LeBlanc reminded correspondents that on 23 May at 9:30 am., there would be a virtual launch of the 9thILO Monitor on the labour impact of COVID-19, embargoed until noon that day. Speakers would be Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, and Sangheon Lee, Director, ILO Employment Policy Department.

On 24 May at 9:30 a.m., there would be a hybrid press conference on the health situation of Palestine refugees in the Near East. The speaker would be Dr. Akihiro Seita, UNRWA Director of Health.

Mr. LeBlanc said that the Committee on the Rights of today the Child was today concluding its review of the report of Croatia.

The Conference on Disarmament would announce at a later stage the date of its next public plenary meeting, still under the presidency of Cuba.

Today was the World Bee Day, and an event was taking place at the Palais des Nations. In the afternoon, a visit would be organized to the beehives in the Ariana Park, and in the evening, Geneva’s Jet d’Eau would be lit in yellow.

Finally, Mr. LeBlanc announced that 21 May would be the International Tea Day and the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development; 22 May would be the International Day for Biological Diversity; and 23 May would be the International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.