Updates from the field #35: Keeping people healthy, nourished and safe
COVID-19 threatens the health and nutrition of almost two billion people in Asia and the Pacific alone. The pandemic is devastating already fragile circumstances for billions worldwide.
UN teams across the globe are aiding to address some fundamental challenges to people’s health and safety. Today, we highlight some of the coordinated efforts.
Asia and the Pacific
In Asia and the Pacific, where a new joint report by several UN agencies says that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health and nutrition of nearly two billion people in the region.
The report, Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2020: Maternal and Child Diets at the Heart of Improving Nutrition, was put together by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
It finds that 1.9 billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet, even before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Due to higher prices for fruits, vegetables and dairy products, it has become nearly impossible for poor people in Asia and the Pacific to achieve healthy diets, the affordability of which is critical to ensure food security and nutrition for all – and for mothers and children in particular. The report calls for a multi-systems approach to fix this – with policies on health, hygiene, education and food systems transformation.
UN teams in India, led by Resident Coordinator Renata Dessallien, are working closely with authorities to prepare and launch what is currently the world’s largest vaccination drive. WHO, UNICEF and UNDP led this effort. As of today, the Government has vaccinated nearly half a million people.
WHO and UNICEF monitored more than 4,000 vaccination sessions so far. The UN team has helped to train more than 300,000 vaccinators and healthcare workers with support from WHO and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) field staff. WHO field teams continue to provide technical assistance and surge support for training, planning and monitoring. UNICEF led efforts to ensure the availability of adequate cold-chain space for COVID-19 vaccines through cold-chain assessment, gap analysis, as well as procurement, supply and installation of new cold chain equipment, including more than 170,000 vaccine carriers and more than 37,300 cold boxes. UNICEF supported a communication strategy addressing vaccine eagerness and hesitancy through various channels.
Moreover, UNDP teams at national, state and district levels have been providing technical assistance to local officials in data collection, management and monitoring of vaccine stocks and supply chain, technology and back-end support, as well as support for immunization activities.
Also, in India, the UN team’s work has led to a five-fold increase in investments to address gender-based violence since the start of the pandemic.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women and WHO organized training for more than 430 crisis centre staff who support around 8,600 survivors of gender-based violence every month. UNFPA trained 47,000 nurses, students and faculty to address violence against women, girls, LGBTI and others.
UNICEF reached nearly half a million children in institutions and foster care and over 120,000 child protection staff.
Nearly 5 million children and women received essential care for reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health care in UNICEF and UNFPA supported facilities.
Also, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) trained more than 160 law enforcement agency officials to prevent and counter human trafficking, while the UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR) conducted nearly 60 training sessions for more than 1000 refugees and asylum seekers on prevention of violence.
Also, a UNAIDS campaign to build solidarity for the LGBTQI community reached over 2 million people.
The UN team, which is led by the Resident Coordinator Maria Jose Torres Macho, continues helping with national and local efforts to tackle the pandemic.
WHO, UNICEF and other partners have installed an oxygen plant to generate more than one million liters of oxygen per day to support COVID-19 case management in one of the country’s main hospitals.
The UN team is also working to improve access to clean water and sanitation, as well as working to save lives and livelihoods, reaching 1.7 million people through cash transfers, an effort led by WFP and UNICEF.
WFP also provided storage space for COVID-19 protective and medical supplies, while UNDP worked with universities to test a contact tracing mobile application to help map outbreaks and hotspots, reaching more than 2 million people.
For its part, FAO supported the government in engaging with fishing communities, also including women and young people to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The UN continues to help with communications campaigns to prevent the spread of the virus, through door-to-door efforts, mobile vans, community drama sessions and social media efforts. Through the Spotlight Initiative, the UN is also tackling gender violence, noting with concern the increase in girl pregnancies and child marriages with a 40,000 and 13,000 spike respectively since the start of the pandemic.
We are also working with traditional leaders to mobilize support for gender equality in rural communities. With the reopening of schools, the UNHCR created a child-friendly booklet to prevent sexual and gender-based violence, with UN Women providing bicycles and sanitary supplies to vulnerable women and girls, also with scholarship opportunities.
In Mozambique, on 21 January, the UN Regional Directors for Southern and Eastern Africa held a virtual press conference. The Regional Directors of several UN entities—including [FAO, the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNFPA, UNHCR, WFP, as well as the UNDP Regional Manager—voiced their extreme concern about the dire humanitarian and food security situation in the northern region of Mozambique. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Mozambique Myrta Kaulard expressed concern following a recent joint mission to the northern part of the country, where there exists a deteriorating humanitarian situation, with a lack of food, water, sanitation, shelter and health care for internally displaced persons.
This was brought on by the escalating violence and displacement of more than 565,000 people from the Cabo Delgado province.
With COVID-19 keeping most schools closed, they stressed the importance of a solid investment in education to strengthen Mozambique's social and human capital. The UN also flags the urgent need to expand protection, health, food and nutrition programmes for vulnerable children and women, as well as immunization and psychosocial counselling, and to work to enable displaced farming and fishing families to regain sustainable livelihoods.
The UN regional team urged the Government of Mozambique and the international community to step up efforts to end all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence and child marriage, and to invest more in women and girls as agents of progress and change.