From Our Bureau   

28th AUGUST 2020

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic situation remained grim globally, with the confirmed cases across the world soaring to 2,42,99,923 and the death toll reaching 8,27,730 in the 216 affected countries and territories on Friday, according to the latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, American region continued to be the worst-hit with 1,28,69,643 confirmed cases and 4,54,818 deaths. Europe came next with 41,39,141 confirmed cases and 2,18,461 deaths. South-East Asia region’s tally stood at 39,05,060 confirmed cases and 73,097 deaths.

Eastern Mediterranean region reported 18,78,490 confirmed cases and 49,883 deaths. African region registered 10,29,787 confirmed cases and 21,151 deaths. Western Pacific region recorded 4,77,061 confirmed cases and 10,307 deaths. WHO Risk Assessment at global level remained very high.

At the media briefing on Thursday, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “Globally, we need the same spirit of solidarity and partnership that are helping to end polio and sleeping sickness to end the COVID-19 pandemic. As societies open up, many are starting to see a resurgence of transmission.”

“Much of this resurgence is occurring in clusters of cases related to gatherings of people, including at stadiums, nightclubs, places of worship and crowds. These types of gatherings can be amplifying events that can be the spark that creates a much larger fire,” he pointed out.

“Every country and community must make its own decisions about how to host these events safely, based on their own level of risk. In some circumstances, closures or suspending events may be necessary for a short time. In others, there are creative ways events can be held safely to minimize risk. The Hajj pilgrimage, for example, went ahead with limited numbers of people who were physically distanced,” he observed.

“Some sporting events are experimenting with reintroducing limited numbers of spectators. In the weeks and months ahead, events, festivals and celebrations of all kinds will take place. There are ways these events can be held safely, with a risk-based approach that takes the measures necessary to keep people safe. These measures should be communicated clearly and regularly,” he added.

“We humans are social beings. It’s natural and normal that we want to come together for all sorts of reasons. There are many ways we can be physically apart, but remain socially connected.

“For many people, the lack of social interaction caused by the pandemic has had a profound effect on their mental health. COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of millions of people, in terms of the anxiety and fear it has caused, and disruption to mental health services.

“People in long-term facilities such as care homes and psychiatric institutions are at increased risk of infection. Mental health professionals have themselves been infected with the virus; and some mental health facilities have been closed to convert them into treatment facilities for people with COVID-19.

“Mental health was already a neglected health issue globally. Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. Yet relatively few people have access to quality mental health services.

“In low- and middle-income countries, more than 75 percent of people with mental, neurological and substance use disorders receive no treatment for their condition at all. Stigma, discrimination, punitive legislation and human rights abuses are still widespread.

“For this year’s World Mental Health Day, WHO, together with our partner organizations, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health, is calling for a massive scale-up in investments in mental health. On World Mental Health Day, the 10th of October, WHO will for the first time host a global online advocacy event on mental health.

“During this event—the Big Event for Mental Health—I will be joined by experts and household names from the worlds of music and sport to talk about what we can all do to improve our mental health – and you will hear their stories. Each and every individual has a story to tell about mental health.

“I will also be joined by world leaders who will explain why they are investing in improving the mental health of the people they serve. We will also show the incredible work being done, and what more needs to be done, to make sure that quality mental health care is available to everyone who needs it.

“Last month I announced the establishment of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, to evaluate the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has been an acid test for many countries and organizations, as well as for the International Health Regulations, the legal instrument agreed by countries that governs preparedness and response for health emergencies.

“Even before the pandemic, I have spoken about how emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC have demonstrated that some elements of the IHR may need review, including the binary nature of the mechanism for declaring a public health emergency of international concern.

“The International Health Regulations allow for a review committee to be established to evaluate the functioning of the IHR and to recommend changes to it.

Earlier today I informed WHO’s Member States that I plan to establish an IHR Review Committee to advise me on whether any changes to the IHR may be necessary to ensure this powerful tool of international law is as effective as possible.

“The committee will be made up of independent experts, who will examine various aspects of the IHR. Although the review committee’s remit is specific to the IHR, it will communicate with the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, and with the Independent Oversight Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, to exchange information and share findings.

“Depending on the progress it makes, the committee will present a progress report to the resumed World Health Assembly in November, and a full report to next year’s Assembly in May.

“WHO is committed to ending the pandemic, and to working with all countries to learn from it, and to ensure that together we build the healthier, safer, fairer world that we want,” the WHO Director-General asserted. (eom)

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