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Geneva, UN (Canadian-Media): COVID-19 cases worldwide have surpassed 15 million, and nearly 620,000 deaths. On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged people everywhere to play a part in preventing further spread of the disease, warning that there will be no return to “the old normal”.
The Lo Valledor main wholesale market in Chile continues to provide the public during the COVID-19 pandemic with all the protective measures for them and the community. Image credit: © FAO/Max Valencia
Most cases, or 10 million, were in just 10 countries, with the United States, Brazil and India accounting for nearly half. On Thursday afternoon, the US passed the milestone of four million infections.
“We’re asking everyone to treat the decisions about where they go, what they do, and who they meet with, as life-and-death decisions – because they are”, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking from Geneva.
“It may not be your life, but your choices could be the difference between life and death for someone you love, or for a complete stranger.”
Adjust to the ‘new normal’
COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of billions across the globe, and Tedros said it is understandable that people want to get on with their lives.
“But we will not be going back to the ‘old normal’. The pandemic has already changed the way we live our lives. Part of adjusting to the ‘new normal’ is finding ways to live our lives safely”, he advised.
In recent weeks, outbreaks associated with nightclubs and other places where people gather have been reported, even in locations where virus transmission has been suppressed.
“We must remember that most people are still susceptible to this virus. As long as it’s circulating, everyone is at risk”, said Tedros, adding, “just because cases might be at a low level where you live, that doesn’t make it safe to let down your guard.”
Tedros underlined that anyone, regardless of age or where they live, can help lead efforts to beat the pandemic and build back better.
“In recent years we’ve seen young people leading grassroots movements for climate change and racial equality. Now we need young people to start a global movement for health – for a world in which health is a human right, not a privilege”, he suggested.
10,000-plus African health workers infected
Separately, the UN health agency underscored the threat COVID-19 is posing to health workers in Africa, more than 10,000 of whom have been infected so far.
There have been more than 750,000 cases of the disease on the continent, with more than 15,000 deaths.
“The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent”, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this, than the rising number of health worker infections.”
A health worker in Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo puts on clothing to protect against the coronavirus.Globally, around 10 per cent of COVID-19 cases are among health professionals, though rates differ between individual countries.
Information on health worker infections in Africa is still limited, WHO said, though preliminary data reveals they comprise more than five per cent of cases in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
Factors that increase risk among these frontline personnel include inadequate access to personal protective equipment, and weak infection prevention and control measures.
“One infection among health workers is one too many”, said Dr. Moeti. “Doctors, nurses and other health professionals are our mothers, brothers and sisters. They are helping to save lives endangered by COVID-19. We must make sure that they have the equipment, skills and information they need to keep themselves, their patients and colleagues safe.”
New COVID-19 Law Lab
WHO has announced the establishment of a COVID-19 Law Lab together with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Georgetown University in the US.
It contains a database of national laws implemented by countries in response to the pandemic, such as state of emergency declarations and measures relating to mask-wearing, physical distancing and access to medications.
#UN; #WHO; #DRC; #Covid19; #EbolaOutbreak; #Africa
Geneva/UN/WHO, Jul 18 (Canadian-Media): The World Health Organization (WHO) and partners are concerned about the growing Ebola outbreak in the northwestern province of Equateur, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), as they face critical funding gaps amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN health agency said on Thursday
During the 2018 Ebola outbreak, primary school students had to wash their hands and have their temperature screened in Mbandaka, Equateur Province, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (file photo). Image credit: © UNICEF/Jonathan Shadid
The outbreak was declared on 1 June and there have been 56 cases, 53 of which are confirmed, surpassing the total number recorded during the province’s last Ebola outbreak, two years ago.
Scattered cases, costly response
“Responding to Ebola in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is complex, but we must not let COVID-19 distract us from tackling other pressing health threats”, said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“The current Ebola outbreak is running into headwinds because cases are scattered across remote areas in dense rain forests. This makes for a costly response as ensuring that responders and supplies reach affected populations is extremely challenging.”
This latest outbreak is the 11th for the DRC, which last month celebrated the end of Ebola in the restive eastern part of the country, following a nearly two-year battle.
The disease killed 2,280 people, making it the world’s second-deadliest Ebola outbreak.
Lessons learned inform response
WHO has mobilized $1.75 million for response in Equateur province but warned that this sum will last only a few more weeks.
The UN agency called for a scale-up in support to ensure affected communities are provided with key services, including health education, vaccination, testing, contact tracing and treatment.
The current response builds on lessons learned from the DRC’s previous Ebola outbreaks, underscoring the importance of working with local communities.
More than 12,000 people have been vaccinated in the six weeks since the outbreak began, with roughly 90 per cent of vaccinators coming from local areas.
WHO reported that vaccinations started within four days of the outbreak being declared, compared to two weeks during the 2018 outbreak.
Meanwhile, community health workers have visited more than 40,000 households, and more than 273,000 people have been provided with health and safety information.
#UN; #NelsonMandelaPrize; #UNFPA; WHO; #UNICEF; #NGOs; #ELPIDA
Geneva/UN, Jul 18 (Canadian-Media): The 2020 Nelson Mandela Prize, which is awarded every five years and recognizes those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity, will go this year to Marianna Vardinoyannis, of Greece, and Doctor Morissana Kouyaté, of Guinea, it was announced on Friday.
Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, female laureate of the 2020 United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize. Image credit: UN
The President of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, made the announcement, and will recognize the laureates during a virtual ceremony on 20 July, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. An in-person award ceremony will take place at a later date, at UN Headquarters in New York.
30 years fighting child cancer
Ms. Vardinoyannis is the founder and president of two foundations dedicated to children: the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation” and “ELPIDA Friends’ Association of Children with cancer.”
She has been involved in the fight against child cancer for some 30 years and, thanks to her work, thousands of children have been cured. Notably, the ELPIDA association was instrumental in setting up the first bone marrow transplant unit in Greece, in 1999, and the country’s first oncology hospital for children, in 2010.
Her foundation also supports programmes for the medical care of refugee children and other vulnerable social groups, human rights education, programmes, and the fight against human trafficking.
Ms. Vardinoyannis has been a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador since 1999.
Ending Female Genital Mutilation
As Executive Director of the Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices (IAC), Dr. Kouyaté is a leading figure in efforts to end violence against women in Africa, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He has received several international humanitarian awards for his work.
Dr. Kouyaté created IAC in 1984 in Dakar, Senegal, at a time when FGM was a highly controversial and sensitive issue for discussion. The organization aims, through education, to change attitudes towards the practice, and allow all African women and children to fully enjoy their human rights, free from the consequences of FGM, and other harmful practices.
It is a partner organization with the UN reproductive rights agency (UNFPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and UN childrens’ agency (UNICEF).
On Friday, President of the UN General Assembly, Muhammad-Bande, warmly congratulated Mrs. Vardinoyannis and Dr. Kouyaté, and thanked the selection Committee for its hard work and dedication.
Morissanda Kouyate, male laureate of the 2020 United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize. Image credit: UN
The Mandela Prize was established by a UN General Assembly resolution in June 2014, to recognize the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity, by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations, while honouring Nelson Mandela’s life, and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation.
The selection committee, chaired by the General Assembly President, receives nominations from a broad variety of sources including UN Member States, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs.
The Prize is one of the ways the UN commemorates the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the first democratically-elected President of South Africa, and a life-long rights activist who was instrumental in ending the racist apartheid era in the country. The 2020 Prize was awarded just ahead of Nelson Mandela International Day, held annually on 18 July.
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Boston, Jul 14 (Canadian-Media): The first experimental COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Fauci’s colleagues at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Cambridge-based Moderna Inc are scheduled to begin key final testing to see its results, media reports said.
Moderna. Image credit: Twitter handle
When this vaccine was tested in the United States (US), 45 people’s immune systems were triggered just the way scientists had hoped, researchers reported Tuesday, as the shots are scheduled to begin key final testing.
“No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious disease expert.
The experimental vaccine will start its most important step around July 27: A 30,000-person study, will mark the world's largest study of a potential COVID-19 vaccine so far, to prove if the shots really are strong enough to protect against the coronavirus.
Neutralizing antibodies, developed in the blood streams of early volunteers, block infection at levels comparable to those found in people who survived COVID-19, the research team reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"This is an essential building block that is needed to move forward with the trials that could actually determine whether the vaccine does protect against infection," said Dr. Lisa Jackson of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle, who led the study.
The government hopes to have results around the end of the year.
Although there were no serious side effects, more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots including fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site.
Some of those reactions occurred right after vaccination and resembled the symptoms of coronavirus but they were temporary and lasted about a day, researchers noted.
And Tuesday's results only included younger adults. The testing later was expanded to include dozens of older adults, the age group most at risk from COVID-19. The results are being evaluated.
Fauci said final testing will include older adults, as well as people with chronic health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, including Black and Latino populations.
"We need multiple vaccines. We need vaccines for the world, not only for our own country," said Fauci, who directs NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
‘Don’t make schools a political football’: senior WHO official calls for data-based COVID-19 strategies
#UN; #WHO; #Children; #Education; #USWithdrawal; #Covid19; #Solidarity; #Trust
Geneva/UN, Jul 13 (Canadian-Media): A senior World Health Organization (WHO) official on Monday, called for the question of school reopenings to be included as part of comprehensive, data-driven COVID-19 public health strategies, and not a politically-driven decision-making process.
Children wear masks at a pre-school in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the COVID-19 outbreak. Image credit: © UNICEF/Shiraaz Mohamed
Responding to questions from reporters at the regular WHO press briefing in Geneva, Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said “we can’t play Whack-a-mole. We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time”.
The senior official said that the topic of school reopenings has become a “political football”, which is not fair on children: “decisions must be made on data, and an understanding of the risks. There needs to be a sustained commitment on suppressing the virus. If we can suppress it, then, schools can open safely.”
No lack of focus, despite US withdrawal
Responding to a question on the United States Government’s decision to begin formal withdrawal from the WHO, Dr. Ryan said that the UN health agency was focused on “controlling the pandemic, reducing mortality and suppressing transmission”.
WHO is also, he said, dealing with many other situations, including health crises in Syria and Yemen, and Ebola and plague outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite the US withdrawal, Dr. Ryan expressed his hope that the Organization would be able to continue to collaborate with US-based colleagues over the coming years.
In his press statement, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of WHO, also called for coherent, data-driven strategies that avoid the need to constantly switch from lockdown to reopening, and control the spread of the virus.
Tedros warned that there will be “no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future”, but that it is possible for countries to suppress the pandemic, allowing people to get on with their lives, as long as governments focus on reducing mortality and transmission; empower communities to take appropriate action; and show leadership.
The WHO chief said that national responses to the virus, have fallen into four different categories. The first comprises countries that responded rapidly to the initial cases, were “alert and aware”, communicated effectively to their citizens, and avoided large outbreaks, said the WHO chief. Examples of these countries can be found in the vast Mekong region of east Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa.
The second category of country, many of which are in Europe, initially saw major outbreaks, but managed to bring them under control, on a “data-driven, step-by-step basis, with a comprehensive public health approach, backed by a strong health workforce, and community buy-in”.
Science, solutions and solidarity
These countries are on the right track, and show that it’s never too late to bring the virus under control, said Tedros, but too many are still headed in the wrong direction, sending out mixed messages that undermines public trust.
They include countries in the third category – which initially overcame the first peak of the outbreak, but then eased up only to face new peaks – and the fourth category, currently seen in the Americas, South Asia and several African countries, which are still in the “intense transmission phase” of their outbreak.
However, even for these countries, said the UN health chief, it is never too late to take decisive action, by implementing the basics and delivering clear public health messages, accelerating the science, finding joint solutions, and working in a spirit of solidarity.
#UN: #Health; #Hunger; #Poverty; #FoodSecurity; #IFAD; #UNICEF; #WHO; Covid19; #SDGs
Geneva, Juk 13 (Canadian-Media): In much of the world, “hunger remains deeply entrenched and is rising”, the UN chief said on Monday, launching this year’s major UN food security update, highlighting that over the past five years, tens of millions of people have joined the ranks of the chronically undernourished.
Women farmers harvest grains in Gisar, Tajikstan. Image credit: FAO/Nozim Kalandarov
As countries “continue to grapple with malnutrition in all its forms, including the growing burden of obesity”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that this year’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report “sends a sobering message”.
The authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition, is produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO).
In the Foreword, the heads of the UN agencies involved cautioned that “five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030.”
In his video message marking the launch, the UN chief spelled out that if the current trend continues, “we will not achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 – zero hunger – by 2030”.
Pandemic ‘wake-up call’
As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the coronavirus pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems, making things even worse.
“We cannot continue thinking of agriculture, the environment, health, poverty and hunger in isolation”, IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo said at the virtual launch. “World problems are interconnected, and the solutions are intertwined. The current pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us”.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that "while it is too soon to assess the full impact of #COVID19, the report estimates that 130 million more people may face chronic hunger by the end of this year",
At the same time, Mr. Guterres maintained that COVID-19 response and recovery investments must help deliver on the longer-term goal of a more inclusive, sustainable world, with resilient food systems for people and planet.
“The transformation can begin now”, he upheld.
To help “make healthy diets affordable and accessible for everyone”, Mr. Guterres announced that he would be “convening a Food Systems Summit next year”.
Against the backdrop that “many more people could slip into hunger this year”, the UN chief concluded: “We cannot let this happen”.
#UN; #WHO; #Covid19; #UNDP; #IPPR
Geneva, Jul 10 (Canadian-Media): COVID-19 cases globally have more than doubled in the past six weeks, reaching 12 million on Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported.
Volunteers teach people living in settlements, in Sana'a, Yemen, instructing them on social distancing and other preventative measure against COVID-19. Image credit: © UNICEF
“Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit”, agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists, adding that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“From countries where there is exponential growth, to places that are loosening restrictions and now starting to see cases rise. We need leadership, community participation and collective solidarity. Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around”, he said.
Tedros cited examples from across the globe which show that even where the outbreak has been intense, it can still be brought under control.
“And some of these examples are Italy, Spain and South Korea, and even in Dharavi – a densely packed area in the megacity of Mumbai – a strong focus on community engagement and the basics of testing, tracing, isolating and treating all those that are sick is key to breaking the chains of transmission and suppressing the virus”, he said.
‘Always a risk’
WHO has consistently advised countries coming out of lockdowns to remain vigilant.
Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, said that advice includes opening up slowly and in phases, waiting between each stage, “and to accept the fact that in our current situation, it is very unlikely that we can eradicate or eliminate this virus.”
He pointed out that even in countries that have achieved zero cases of COVID-19, or near zero cases, the disease has resurfaced.
“There is always a risk: either from within, or from bringing disease back in. And therefore, it is a given that there is always a risk of further cases”, he said.
Support for smokers
The world’s first digital health worker is ready to help millions of people quit smoking and reduce the risk of being infected by COVID-19.
“Florence” is the computer-generated face of the Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco, announced on Friday by WHO and partners.
Using Artificial Intelligence, she will help smokers develop personalized plans to quit tobacco, while also dispelling myths around COVID-19 and smoking.
Smokers are at higher risk of COVID-19 because they are constantly putting their hands to their mouths.
If infected, they are more likely to develop a severe case of the disease, according to Dr. Ruediger Krech, Director of WHO’s Department of Ethics and Social Determinants of Health.
“That’s why, at the moment, we know that 680 million people want to quit smoking, and we know that 400 million will try to stop smoking: and that’s the good news”, he said.
“With today’s initiative, we hope that we will be successful in really helping 20 million to succeed in this.”
Florence is available 24/7 via video stream or text. She was created with technology developed by Soul Machines, a company based in the United States and New Zealand, with support from Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.
The initiative will be launched initially in Jordan, with global roll-out scheduled over the coming months.
Panel on pandemic response established
An Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) has been established to evaluate the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHO Member States meeting in May, adopted a landmark resolution that called on the UN agency to initiate an independent and comprehensive evaluation of lessons learned from the international health response to the crisis.
The IPPR will be led by two co-chairs: Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and a past head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Operating independently, they will choose other members of the panel, whose size has yet to be determined.
The co-chairs will also select members of an independent secretariat that will support the panel.
Geneva, Jul 10 (Canadian-Media): As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, Latin America and the Caribbean are now suffering some of the highest rates of transmission, the UN chief said on Thursday, releasing a new policy initiative on how best to recover in a region already embroiled in poverty, hunger, unemployment and inequality.
A seasonal worker at a store in Buga, Colombia. Image credit: World Bank/Charlotte Kesl
The UN brief reveals that several countries in the region, are now among those with the highest per capita infection rates worldwide and shines a light on how the crisis is impacting vulnerable groups, including indigenous communities and women.
“The most vulnerable populations and individuals are once again being hit the hardest,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message on the pandemic’s effect throughout a zone grappling with fragmented health services – even before the coronavirus.
The UN chief emphasized the impact of the coronavirus on women across the region, who make up the majority of the workforce and now bear the brunt of additional caregiving. He highlighted the plight of older persons and individuals with disabilities, who are at greater risk; and indigenous peoples, those of African descent, migrants and refugees, who suffering disproportionately.
It is projected that there will be a 9.1 per cent contraction in gross domestic product (GDP), which will be the largest in a century.
While stressing the need to “do everything possible to limit the spread of the virus and tackle the health effects of the pandemic”, Mr. Guterres noted that “we must also address the unprecedented social and economic impacts.”
Steps towards a better recovery
The policy brief underlines an array of urgent and longer-term steps for better recovery, including the prioritization of distance learning and continued child-centered services to mitigate education interruptions.
Governments within the region are also being asked to do more to reduce poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition, such as by providing basic emergency income and anti-hunger grants.
Mr. Guterres also flagged the urgent need for greater international support.
“I have called for a rescue and recovery package equivalent to more than 10 per cent of the global economy”, reminded the UN chief, underscoring the need of the international community to provide liquidity, financial assistance and debt relief for Latin America and the Caribbean.
“Latin American and Caribbean countries – and in particular small island developing States – should not be excluded from global assistance”, he asserted. “The international multilateral response needs to be extended to middle-income countries”.
Broader structural challenges must be addressed to build back better and transform the region’s development model.
Against the backdrop of pervasive inequality, accessible and comprehensive welfare systems must be developed, fair taxation systems created, decent jobs promoted, environmental sustainability strengthened, and social protection mechanisms reinforced, according to the UN chief.
Moreover, regional economic integration is required, with “women participating fully and safely in public and economic life”, he stressed.
“Building back better demands strengthening democratic governance, human rights protection and the rule of law, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, Mr. Guterres spelled out.
Address root causes
The Secretary-General maintained that the root causes of inequality, political instability and displacement must be addressed, while underscoring that at a time when too many citizens feel excluded, “greater accountability and transparency are crucial”.
#WHO; #COVID19GlobalResponse; #IndependentPanel
Geneva, Jul 10 (Canadian-Media): WHO Director-General today announced the initiation of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPR) to evaluate the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 Pandemic. Image credit: Twitter handle
In remarks to WHO Member States, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the Panel will be co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Prime Minister Clark went to on lead the United Nations Development Programme and President Sirleaf is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Operating independently, they will choose other Panel members as well as members of an independent secretariat to provide support.
“Prime Minister Clark and President Sirleaf were selected through a process of broad consultation with Member States and world experts. I cannot imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process.” said Dr. Tedros in his speech.
At the historic 73rd World Health Assembly in May, Member States adopted a landmark resolution that called on WHO to initiate an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the lessons learned from the international health response to COVID-19.
“This is a time for self-reflection, to look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen our collaboration as we work together to save lives and bring this pandemic under control,” said Dr Tedros. “The magnitude of this pandemic, which has touched virtually everyone in the world, clearly deserves a commensurate evaluation.”
Dr Tedros proposed that a Special Session of the Executive Board be called in September to discuss the Panel’s progress. In November the Panel will present an interim report at the resumption of the World Health Assembly.
In January 2021, the Executive Board will hold its regular session, where the Panel’s work will be further discussed; and in May of next year, at the World Health Assembly, the panel will present its substantive report.
The Director-General noted that the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme will also continue its existing work.
“Even as we fight this pandemic, we must be readying ourselves for future global outbreaks and the many other challenges of our time such as antimicrobial resistance, inequality and the climate crisis,” said Dr Tedros. “COVID-19 has taken so much from us. But it is also giving us an opportunity to break with the past and build back better.”
#UN; #France; #Covid19; #FaultyMerchandises; #SubstandardMerchandises; #UNODC; #Research; #OrganizedCrime
France, Jul 09 (Canadian-Media): A surge in demand for medical products to combat COVID-19 has led to a jump in the trafficking of substandard and faulty merchandise, according to new UN research published on Wednesday.
Health workers in Madagascar test citizens for COVID-19. Image credit: World Bank/Henitsoa Rafalia
“Health and lives are at risk with criminals exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to cash in on public anxiety and increased demand for PPE and medications”, said Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Among its countless other impacts, the coronavirus has further highlighted the shortcomings in regulatory and legal frameworks aimed at preventing the manufacturing and selling of these products, points out the UNODC research brief, entitled “COVID-19-related Trafficking of Medical Products as a Threat to Public Health”.
Preying on vulnerabilities
The research reveals that criminal gangs are exploiting both the uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus along with inconsistencies in national regulation regimens.
“Transnational organized crime groups take advantage of gaps in national regulation and oversight to peddle substandard and falsified medical product”, explained the UN crime-fighting chief.
The falsification of medical products bears significant risks for public health as products may not properly treat the disease and may facilitate the development of drug resistance.
Criminal groups have also quickly adjusted to the opportunities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit the vulnerabilities and gaps in the health and criminal justice systems.
Evidence shows that fraud, scams and seizures, involving the manufacture and trafficking of substandard and falsified medical products, have followed the spread of the virus.
In one case, German health authorities contracted two sales companies in Switzerland and Germany to procure €15 million worth of face masks through a cloned website of an apparently legitimate company in Spain.
“We need to help countries increase cooperation to close gaps, build law enforcement and criminal justice capacity, and drive public awareness to keep people safe”, Ms. Waly upheld.
Harmonized global approach needed
The pandemic has also highlighted a boom in data-based scams – including phishing, and business email attacks – or the creation of fake corporate websites to fool purchasers.
UNODC’s research also predicts that the behaviour of organized criminal groups will gradually change over the course of the pandemic.
When a vaccine is developed, it will likely lead to a shift in focus away from PPE smuggling to trafficking in the vaccine.
Moreover, cyberattacks on critical infrastructure involved in addressing the pandemic are also likely to continue in the form of online scams aimed at health procurement authorities, according to the research.
Strengthening legal frameworks and penalties, and a more harmonized global approach to the criminalization of the manufacture and trafficking of falsified medical products is crucial, as only a common approach will enable effective responses to crimes impacting individuals and public health, the UNODC brief maintains.
At the same time however, preventing, detecting, and responding to medical product-related crime will require people who work in the medical product sector to acquire new or additional skills.
Examples worldwide of COVID-19 scams
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it took down more than 2,000 online coronavirus scams in March alone, which included 471 fake online shops selling fraudulent COVID-19-related items.
Police in France removed 70 fraudulent websites claiming to sell chloroquine in April.
COVID-19-related scams in the USA amounted to approximately US$13.4 million in fraud, from the beginning of January to mid-April this year, and have affected more than 18,000 citizens.
In the first four months of 2020, 1,541 cyberattacks related to COVID-19 were detected in the United Arab Emirates including 775 malware threats, 621 email spam attacks and 145 URL attacks.
A seizure of 3,300 thermometers was reported in Thailand , after being trafficked through three other countries and a report of thermometers which do not conform with EU regulations was also noted in Italy.
Organized criminal groups in the Western Balkans are believed to be involved in money laundering and investing their illicit gains in the production and trafficking of falsified medical products and protective clothing.
There have been COVID-19-related reports of substandard and falsified ventilators in Russia, where a fraud enquiry has begun, as well as in the UK, where ventilators supplied were substandard and potentially dangerous. The supply of substandard ventilators was also reported in Bosnia and Herzegovina.