by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, April 7 (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has suspended until June 30 the rotation and deployments of uniformed personnel, including individual officers and already-formed, police and military peacekeeping units, because of the novel coronavirus, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, said on Tuesday.
"Our priorities are to ensure the COVID-19-free status of incoming uniformed personnel and mitigate the risk that UN peacekeepers could be a contagion vector and simultaneously maintain our operational capabilities," Dujarric said. "A few, limited exceptions may be considered to continue to deliver on the mandate, but only in extenuating circumstances on the basis of strict conditions to prevent the spread of the virus."
The decision was sent to all countries contributing troops and police and to all relevant peace operations.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Yacoub El Hillo, was appalled to have learned that heavy shelling hit Tripoli's Al Khadra General Hospital, injuring at least one healthcare worker and damaging the fully functioning medical facility, the spokesman said. El Hillo called it a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
The coordinator said repeated calls by the United Nations and the international community for a cessation of hostilities have only been met with complete disregard and the fighting has intensified.
He called it unacceptable at a time when healthcare and health workers are vital in the fight against a global pandemic, adding that if Libya is to have any chance against COVID-19, the ongoing conflict must come to an immediate halt.
The UN team in Jordan led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with the government by supporting the National Preparedness and Response Operational Plan to contain the virus and procure medical equipment, personal protection equipment and diagnostic tests, Dujarric said.
The UN Children's Fund is working with the Jordanian Ministry of Education to ensure continued learning for the most vulnerable children, including home learning through TV and online and in print in communities with no access to the internet, the spokesman said.
The world organization is working with the government to provide counseling services over the telephone to women, including refugees. It is also transferring cash to women who had to stop working due to COVID-19, he said.
The World Food Programme is working with the Jordanian government to ensure that support to refugees is maintained, including through cash transfers for food and other needs, Dujarric said.
The UN Development Programme is supporting medical waste management in Jordanian hospitals to protect patients, medical workers and the general public, he said.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is increasing its ability to prevent, treat and limit the spread of COVID-19 among refugee communities across East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, areas that host some of the largest refugee populations in the world, the spokesman said.
Many of UNHCR's operations in the area have provided refugees with more food and basic relief items to reduce the frequency of distributions and the risks posed by queues and large crowds, Dujarric said.
The agency is also actively engaged with governments of the region to ensure the inclusion of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people in the national response plans.
The spokesman said humanitarian colleagues reported the United Nations, the European Union and the government of Nigeria launched a COVID-19 campaign for additional funds to support efforts to tackle the pandemic.
The new fund, which will be facilitated and implemented by the United Nations in Nigeria, aims to ensure adequate essential health equipment needed for testing, preparing quarantine and medical care.
In Cameroon, the secretary-general has condemned the double suicide bombing by suspected Boko Haram fighters that took place in Amichide, in the Far North Region of Cameroon on Sunday. He expressed his condolences to the bereaved families and to the government and people of Cameroon.
Guterres reiterated UN's continued support to the countries of the Lake Chad Basin in their unwavering efforts to address the security, socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges posed by Boko Haram.
A new report by the WHO and its partners said the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the urgent need to strengthen the global health workforce, with nurses being on the frontline.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that nurses are the backbone of any health system, adding that the new report, entitled "The State of the World's Nursing 2020," is a wakeup call to ensure they get the support they need to keep the world healthy.
There are just under 28 million nurses worldwide, with a global shortfall of 5.9 million, and with the greatest gaps in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean region and Latin America, he said.
The report estimated that countries experiencing shortages need to increase the total number of nurse graduates by an average 8 percent per year, along with improved ability to be employed and retained in the health system.
The UN secretary-general dedicated his World Health Day message on Tuesday to all the healthcare workers - nurses, midwives, technicians, paramedics, pharmacists, doctors, drivers, cleaners, administrators and many others - who work day and night to keep people safe.
"We are more deeply grateful than ever to all of you, as you work, round the clock, putting yourselves at risk, to fight the ravages of this pandemic," he said.
"You make us proud; you inspire us. We are indebted to you," the secretary-general said.