UN chief pushes for concerted efforts to defeat polio

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to The Associated Press in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 19 February 2020

UN chief pushes for concerted efforts to defeat polio

  • Pakistan is one of just two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, where cases of polio are still prevalent

LAHORE: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated the need for unified efforts to effectively eradicate polio from Pakistan, adding that the world needed to “join hands” to fight the menace.

“Together, we can eliminate polio from across the world, and I appeal to all the world leaders to join hands to fight out polio,” Guterres said in comments to the media on Tuesday after participating in an anti-polio drive at a private school in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province.

The UN chief was accompanied by Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmeen Rashed, and a coterie of other officials. “He appreciated the federal and provincial governments’ efforts to curb this menace,” Dr. Rashed told Arab News.

Pakistan is one of just two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, where cases of polio are still prevalent. Guterres said that eradicating polio from the world map was the UN’s first priority, before commending the government and frontline workers for ensuring that Pakistan was now a “safer country as compared to the past.”

“I express solidarity with the workers who laid their lives in the line of duty,” the UN chief said, paying homage to officials who were targeted and killed, following rumors that the immunization programs were harmful for children.

However, by hiring local workers who speak the same language and understand the nuances involved, the campaign has seen better acceptance.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of registered cases of polio stood at 20,000 a year in the early 1990s. That number has dropped down to seven reported cases from various provinces thus far in 2020.

For this year’s drive, more than 265,000 workers have been roped in for a door-to-door, nationwide campaign to ensure no child remains uninoculated.

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Guterres said that eradicating polio was the UN’s first priority, before commending the workers for ensuring that Pakistan was now a ‘safer country as compared to the past.’

The five-day initiative, which began on Monday, seeks to vaccinate 39.6 million children under the age of five years.

“It is the second day of the campaign and we are committed to make it a success. Nearly 95,000 polio workers are on the field, going to every house where a child below the age of five years resides,” Hanif Pitafi, Advisor to Punjab Chief Minister on Health, told Arab News.

The Punjab government, for its part, has issued directives to district deputy commissioners to monitor the process at various locations.

“We will leave no stone unturned to save the future of our children...We will achieve our target,” he added.

After participating in the polio drive, Guterres headed to the Kartarpur Corridor, a visa-free initiative launched by Pakistan which allows Sikhs from India and around the world to visit the final resting place of Guru Nanak who founded Sikhism five centuries ago.

“This is the best symbol that we can give for a world in peace and for a world (where) there is mutual respect and acceptance of what is different,” the UN Chief said on Tuesday.

Inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan last year, the four-kilometer Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrine of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India’s Punjab region to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan. Some 5,000 Indian Sikhs are allowed entry on a daily basis.

“Recognizing the diversity is a blessing, is a richness of a threat which we see in so many parts of the world fighting in the name of religion. It is necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine,” Guterres said, adding that his visit was “to pay tribute to the contribution of the Sikh community all over the world”.

The UN Chief arrived in Islamabad on Sunday as part of his four-day visit to the country to attend an international conference on Afghan refugees.

The event is being hosted by Pakistan to mark four decades since displacements began from neighboring Afghanistan, by residents seeking to escape a deadly conflict.


Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

Updated 01 April 2020

Coronavirus worst crisis since Second World War, UN boss says as deaths surge

  • Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown
  • Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science

WASHINGTON: The global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen Wednesday despite unprecedented lockdowns, as the head of the United Nations sounded the alarm on what he said was humanity’s worst crisis since World War II.
The warning came as Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a “very painful” few weeks after the United States registered its deadliest 24 hours of the crisis.
Around half of the planet’s population is under some form of lockdown as governments struggle to halt the spread of a disease that has now infected more than 850,000 people.
Well over 40,000 are known to have died, half of them in Italy and Spain, but the death toll continues to rise with new records being logged daily in the US.
“This is going to be a very painful — a very, very painful — two weeks,” Trump said, describing the pandemic as “a plague.”
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead.”
America’s outbreak has mushroomed rapidly. There are now around 190,000 known cases — a figure that has doubled in just five days.
On Tuesday, a record 865 people died, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, taking the national toll so far to more than 4,000.
Members of Trump’s coronavirus task force said the country should be ready for between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the coming months.
“As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
America’s under-pressure health system is being supplemented by field hospitals sprouting up all over New York, including a tented camp in Central Park, a hospital ship and converted convention centers.
But even with the extended capacity, doctors say they are still having to make painful choices.
“If you get a surge of patients coming in, and you only have a limited number of ventilators, you can’t necessarily ventilate patients,” Shamit Patel of the Beth Israel hospital said. “And then you have to start picking and choosing.”
The extraordinary economic and political upheaval spurred by the virus presents a real danger to the relative peace the world has seen over the last few decades, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday.
The “disease ... represents a threat to everybody in the world and... an economic impact that will bring a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.”
“The combination of the two facts and the risk that it contributes to enhanced instability, enhanced unrest, and enhanced conflict are things that make us believe that this is the most challenging crisis we have faced since the Second World War,” he said.
In virtual talks Tuesday, finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 major economies pledged to address the debt burden of low-income countries and deliver aid to emerging markets.
Last week G20 leaders said they were injecting $5 trillion into the global economy to head off a feared deep recession.
In the European Union, however, battle lines have been drawn over the terms of a rescue plan.
Worst-hit Italy and Spain are leading a push for a shared debt instrument — dubbed “coronabonds.”
But talk of shared debt is a red line for Germany and other northern countries, threatening to divide the bloc.
Deaths shot up again across Europe. While there are hopeful signs that the spread of infections is slowing in hardest-hit Italy and Spain, which both reported more than 800 new deaths Tuesday.
France recorded a one-day record of 499 dead while Britain reported 381 coronavirus deaths, including that of a previously healthy 13-year-old.
That came after a 12-year-old Belgian girl succumbed to an illness that is serious chiefly for older, frailer people with pre-existing health conditions.
Lockdowns remain at the forefront of official disease-stopping arsenals — a strategy increasingly borne-out by science.
Researchers said China’s decision to shutter Wuhan, ground zero for the global COVID-19 pandemic, may have prevented three-quarters of a million new cases by delaying the spread of the virus.
“Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan” by mid-February, said Oxford University’s Christopher Dye.