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Ukraine: Heading into winter without heat or water, needs in Mykolaiv are 'critical’

INTERNATIONAL, 28 November 2022, Humanitarian Aid - In the south of Ukraine, people have no water, electricity or heat, and food is scarce, the UN Spokesperson said on Monday. 
Updating journalists at a regular press briefing, Stéphane Dujarric recounted Humanitarian Coordinator Denise Brown’s visit over the weekend to Kherson and Mykolaiv where she assessed the humanitarian situation, met with authorities, and monitored the response provided by aid organizations.  

She observed that although humanitarians are delivering vital aid, “the needs are immense”.  

Making a difference 

Ms. Brown saw first-hand how since the Government retook control of Kherson, supplies provided by the UN and partners have made a difference in the lives of people, the UN Spokesperson said. 

“We expect that, with support of the authorities, we will be able to cover the basic needs of people who have stayed in the city, if we are able to sustain the same level of aid sent over the past two weeks”, he elaborated. 

Mykolaiv ‘cut off’ 

Meanwhile, the situation in Mykolaiv remains “critical” as the city continues to receive people fleeing Kherson – a trend that began when Russia first invaded Ukraine in February. 

“Since the start of the war and until recently, Mykolaiv had been shelled almost daily, leaving some 250,000 people who remained in the city completely cut off from water supply and other essential services”, Mr. Dujarric told the journalists.  

“Local authorities tell us that now, with the front lines moving further from the city, they are finally able to start to repair the water system”.   

Winter is coming 

To help the people of Mykolaiv and those arriving from other places, donors are supporting humanitarian organizations by bolstering authorities as they prepare the city for the winter.  

“Some heating points have already been established in Mykolaiv to help people who cannot heat their homes”, the Spokesperson said.  

“Aid workers are providing supplies and generators to make these places functional”. 

Dire situation 

Although electricity is gradually being restored, water and heating supplies remain dire.   

“We continue to be concerned about the plight of civilians in Ukraine especially as winter sets in”, said Mr. Dujarric, informing the media that the UN is working to “support people with services and supplies to make sure they can be protected and keep warm during these harsh months”. 

He thanked donors for their “extraordinary” financial support to the Ukraine humanitarian response, saying that $3.1 billion of the $4.3 billion Flash Appeal for the year had been received. 

“In order to maintain the momentum of the response and continuity of operations to support people across Ukraine over these cold winter months, continued funding is obviously critical”, he said. 

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Israeli-Palestinian conflict nearing ‘boiling point’, UN envoy warns

INTERNATIONAL, 28 November 2022, Peace and Security - Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians “is again reaching a boiling point”, the UN Middle East envoy told the Security Council on Monday, warning of escalating violence amid a stalled peace process. 
Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland called for stronger international commitment towards the two-State solution and outlined potential ways to move forward.  

He reported that high levels of violence in the occupied West Bank and Israel in recent months has resulted in grave suffering. 

This included attacks against civilians from both sides, increased use of arms, and settler-related violence. 

Surge in violence 

“After decades of persistent violence, illegal settlement expansion, dormant negotiations and deepening occupation, the conflict is again reaching a boiling point,” he said

Last week, two Israelis were killed, and more than a dozen injured, in bombings in Jerusalem, which the envoy condemned.  Days before, Israeli settlers violently attacked Palestinians in Hebron, which he also denounced. 

“This surge in violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is taking place in the context of a stalled peace process and entrenched occupation, and amidst mounting economic and institutional challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority,” said Mr. Wennesland. 

“Global trends and declining donor support have compounded these challenges, alongside an absence of democratic renewal for the Palestinian people.”  

Risk of escalation  

Furthermore, the “fragile calm” in Gaza was recently interrupted when Palestinian militants launched four rockets towards Israel, prompting airstrikes by the country’s defense forces. 

“Once again, we are reminded that the mix of militant activity, debilitating closures, absence of the legitimate Palestinian Government and hopelessness create an ever-present risk of escalation,” he said. 

Mr. Wennesland and his team have continued to hold discussions with Palestinian and Israeli officials, and with international and regional actors. 

Progress and restrictions 

The UN worked with partners to mediate and support ceasefires in Gaza in May and earlier in the year. 

Measures were implemented to support the local economy, including improvements to movement and access in and out of Gaza, for both people and goods. 

Critical projects were carried out, he continued, such as providing fuel to the Gaza power plant and assistance to more than 100,000 needy families, which will continue into the coming year. 

Mr. Wennesland also pointed to progress. For example, he noted that Israel has approved the highest number of permits for Palestinians from Gaza to work in its territory since 2007.   

Nevertheless, restrictions and delays continue, which negatively impact humanitarian and development efforts.  

“These preventive and de-escalation measures and diplomatic engagements have helped maintain calm on the ground and provide some space for progress, but without tangible movement on the political track, their benefits are likely to be short-lived,” he said. 

Palestinian Authority problems 

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority faces significant and institutional challenges, he added.   

Elections have not been held since 2006, and more than half the electorate – people aged 18 to 35 - has never had the chance to vote. 

“This is taking place against the backdrop of changing dynamics in the region, shifting international priorities, and more recently, the fallout of the conflict in Ukraine, which have significantly reduced the attention paid to this conflict,” said Mr. Wennesland. 

Engagement on political issues 

The envoy underscored the need to take urgent steps towards the two-State solution, which, he said, “still garners considerable support among Palestinians and Israelis”. 

He outlined three related actions aimed at moving the sides forward on fundamental political issues.

“First, we must continue to engage with the parties to reduce tensions and counter negative trends, particularly those impacting final status issues. This will involve reining in violence and incitement and holding perpetrators accountable. This means that both sides stop unilateral steps that undermine peace, including settlement expansion or legalization, demolitions and displacement,” he said. 

His second point called for improving access, movement and trade to create room for the Palestinian economy to grow.  A more comprehensive approach to easing restrictions on movements of people and goods in Gaza is also required, among other measures. 

International support needed 

For his final point, Mr. Wennesland highlighted the need to strengthen Palestinian institutions, improve governance and shore up the fiscal health of the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

“The PA’s political legitimacy and accountability must also be strengthened through democratic reforms and opening of the civic space, holding elections across the OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territory) and ensuring the effectiveness and credibility of the Palestinian security forces,” he further stated. 

“Without implementing points one and two above, this will not be possible,” he added. 

Mr. Wennesland recognized that advancing these steps “will be a formidable task” under the current circumstances.  He called for greater commitment from the international community, as well as coordinated and sustained attention, resources and engagement with the parties. 

“Ultimately, only Palestinians and Israelis can together determine their future,” he said.  “But the UN and the international community – including through regional and international frameworks – must support the parties in moving towards a political horizon aligned with the core principles outlined above.” 

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Three years of flatlined progress on HIV treatment and prevention affect 2.7 million youth

INTERNATIONAL, 28 November 2022, Health - Some 110,00 youth under age 19 died last year from AIDS-related causes, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday, noting that coupled with 310,000 newly infected, the total number of young people living with HIV stands at 2.7 million. 
Three years of flatlined progress on HIV treatment and prevention affect 2.7 million youth  

Some 110,00 youth under age 19 died last year from AIDS-related causes, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday, noting that coupled with 310,000 newly infected, the total number of young people living with HIV stands at 2.7 million. 

Ahead of World AIDS Day on Thursday, UNICEF warned in its latest global snapshot on children, HIV and AIDS that progress in HIV prevention and treatment has nearly flatlined over the past three years, with many regions still not at pre-pandemic service coverage.  

“Though children have long lagged behind adults in the AIDS response, the stagnation seen in the last three years is unprecedented, putting too many young lives at risk of sickness and death,” said UNICEF Associate Chief of HIV/AIDS Anurita Bains. 

Collective failure 

This comes on top of an existing and growing gap in treatment between adults and children, adolescents, and pregnant women. 

“Children are falling through the cracks because we are collectively failing to find and test them and get them on life-saving treatment”, she continued.  

“Every day that goes by without progress, over 300 children and adolescents lose their fight against AIDS.” 

Numbers tell the story 

Despite accounting for only seven per cent of overall people living with HIV, children and adolescents comprised 17 per cent of AIDS-related deaths, and 21 per cent of new HIV infections last year.  

Unless the drivers of inequities are addressed, UNICEF warns, ending AIDS in children and adolescents will continue to be a distant dream. 

However, the snapshot points out that longer-term trends remain positive.  

New HIV infections among children under age 14 dropped by 52 per cent from 2010 to 2021, and new infections among 15- to19-year-olds also dropped by 40 per cent.  

Similarly, coverage of lifelong antiretroviral treatment (ART) among pregnant women living with HIV increased from 46 per cent to 81 per cent in a single decade. 

Growing treatment gap 

While the total number of children living with HIV is on the decline, the treatment gap between children and adults continues to grow.  

In UNICEF’s HIV-priority countries, ART coverage for children stood at 56 per cent in 2020 but fell to 54 per cent in 2021. 

Several factors were responsible for the decline, including the pandemic and other global crises that have increased marginalization and poverty. 

However, the failure also reflects waning political will and a flagging AIDS response in children.  

Globally, only 52 per cent of children living with HIV had access to treatment, which has only marginally increased over the past few years. 

Among all adults living with HIV, meanwhile, coverage at 76 per cent was more than 20 percentage points higher than among children.  

And there was an 81 per cent gap between children and pregnant women living with HIV.  

Moreover, the percentage of children living with HIV under age four who are not on ART climbed to 72 per cent last year – as high as it was in 2012.

A twenty-year-old pregnant woman who was born with HIV, takes medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
© UNICEF/UN0640796/Dejongh
A twenty-year-old pregnant woman who was born with HIV, takes medication to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

Regional lens 

During 2020, pregnant and breastfeeding women in Asia and the Pacific; the Caribbean; Eastern and Southern Africa; Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and West and Central Africa all experienced treatment coverage drops. 

And in 2021, coverage in Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East and North Africa declined further.  

Except for West and Central Africa, which continues to see the highest burden of mother-to-child transmission, none of the regions above have recovered to 2019 levels, putting the lives of newborn babies at increased risk.  

In 2021, more than 75,000 new child infections occurred because pregnant women were not diagnosed and initiated on treatment. 

“With renewed political commitment to reaching the most vulnerable, strategic partnership and resources to scale up programmes, we can end AIDS in children, adolescents and pregnant women”, Ms. Bains said. 

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‘We cannot give up’ on the millions suffering in drought-stricken Horn of Africa, urges WFP official

INTERNATIONAL, 28 November 2022, Humanitarian Aid - Millions of people in the Horn of Africa – a region at the intersection of some of the worst impacts of climate change, recurring humanitarian crises and insecurity – are facing the driest conditions in four decades along with extreme food shortages. The top UN World Food Programme (WFP) official in the region, Michael Dunford, is warning that the situation there is likely to get worse before it improves.
In an interview with UN News, Mr. Dunford said: “Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis. If you think 2022 is bad, beware of what is coming in 2023. What that means, is that we need to continue to engage. We cannot give up on the needs of the population in the Horn.”

He warned that famine is still a threat, and while WFP was watching the situation closely, “we may see before the end of this year, or perhaps early next, a declaration of pockets of famine in parts of Somalia. What scares me most is that until we have serious rains, the drought will continue, and we could see a situation [of possible famine] replicated in some of the neighboring countries as well.”

Yet, despite this bleak outlook, Mr. Dunford praised the resilience of communities in the “very dynamic” region, as well as innovative ideas coming from WFP, other UN agencies, and donors, to help improve access to financing and new advances in agriculture. He believed that investing in the communities themselves was also critical, including, among others, in areas such as nutrition and girls’ education.

“We are looking for African solutions to the challenges, and WFP is both the catalyst and [conduit] to enable local economies and the agricultural sector [to] use those resources to meet the immediate needs in the region,” he said, and beyond that: “We’re already starting to think, how do we build resilience? How do we help these populations adapt to…a climate has changed?  How can [they] adapt to their new circumstances and what can WFP and other partners do to support these new livelihoods?”

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

UN News: We are doing this interview at a time where millions of people in the Horn of Africa are facing food insecurity because of drought. Can you paint us a picture on the situation?

Michael Dunford: Thanks very much for the question. And in fact, the situation in the region of Eastern Africa, particularly The Horn of Africa, has never been so bad. This time last year, there were 51 million people hungry, [or] acutely hungry. Today that figure stands at 82 million. So, we’ve seen a dramatic increase, almost 60 per cent over the course of just 12 months. And what’s driving it is conflict, climate, the effects of [the COVID-19 pandemic] and now this dramatic increase in costs. People are on the brink. We have situations in Somalia, Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and South Sudan where it's the UN World Food Program (WFP) and others that are the difference between life and death. And the situation, unfortunately, is going to get worse before it improves.

Michael Dunford, WFP's Regional Director for Horn of Africa in an interview with UN News.
UN/ Leah Mushi

UN News: For people who have never been there, just hearing this or watching reports about it on TV, can you tell them what women and children have to go through if they want to survive? You said it’s the choice between life and death. What do they have to do if they want one meal a day?

Mr. Dunford: So currently The Horn is experiencing the worst drought in over 40 years. Until recently, there were four failed rainy seasons. The current rains are also failing, so that’s creating huge displacement of populations, loss of livestock; people simply unable to meet their requirements. So, people are moving, people are on the move. There’s over a million internal displaced peoples (IDPs) created through the drought itself, and they are coming into centers where humanitarian actors, WFP and others, are able to provide essential lifesaving support. In the WFP's case, we're providing in Somalia cash transfers to over 4.7 million people. And in addition, we’re running nutrition programmes and supporting the broader humanitarian scale-up to ensure they have the logistics capacity and the telecommunications capacity necessary to be able to meet the needs of the population.

UN News: So, is famine still a threat in the region?

Mr. Dunford: Unfortunately, it is. The analysis continues, and we may see before the end of this year, or perhaps early next, a declaration of pockets of famine in parts of Somalia. What scares me most is that until such time that we have serious rains, the drought will continue. And we could see this situation replicated in some of the neighboring countries as well.

I met a woman recently when I was in Somalia. She’d walked for 28 days with seven children. When I talked to her, she had a child on her hip, clearly malnourished, and the woman herself, Amina, was registering so that she could access humanitarian assistance through WFP, and we were then referring her on to the nutrition centers so that she would be able to get the treatment necessary to ensure that her child survives. The situation is as bad as I have seen and of course it’s exacerbated by the conflicts and the insecurity, [which also] makes humanitarian access that much more difficult.

A one-year-old girl is treated for malnutrition at a WFP-funded clinic in Dolow in Somalia.
© WFP/Samantha Reinders

UN News: WFP had earlier requested $418 million to meet the urgent needs of crisis affected families through the rest of the year in the four drought-affected countries in the Horn of Africa. Is the amount still the same? And what has been the response so far?

Mr. Dunford: Fundraising for this operation, particularly at the front end when we knew this disaster was on the horizon, was challenging. We were competing with other operations and interests across the globe, the conflict in Ukraine being a very good example. By April we were able to raise the lion’s share of the funding that we needed, and we were able to go from 1.5 million beneficiaries to 4.7 million in Somalia alone. Across the region we’re now responding to the drought, supporting upwards of 9 to 10 million people. So, we have been able to scale up.

The key, however, is that we need to be able to sustain this operation, and hence, we will continue to require additional funding. Across the entire region, WFP needs $2.1 billion for the next six months. Huge numbers. Fortunately, the United States Government and others have come in substantially with much needed funding. But this now needs to be sustained until such time that the rains come, the drought is broken, and the population can return to where they came from.

UN News: Are there other options that you may use to reach out to donors because now you’re talking about the sustainability if funding is not forthcoming in the way that you had thought?

Mr. Dunford: So, we work closely with the IFIs, the international financial institutions – the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and others – and they are making funds available often through the host governments, so WFP can expand its operations accordingly. It’s also very important that we’re meeting the needs of the population today, the humanitarian needs. But we’re already starting to think, how do we build the resilience? How do we help these populations adapt to the changing climate? In fact, it’s not about changing climate: it’s the fact that the climate has changed. It’s unlikely we’re ever going to go back to where we’ve come. So, how can these populations adapt to their new circumstances and what can WFP and other partners do to support these new livelihoods?

World Food Programme (WFP) convoys loaded with relief and nutritious foods stand by to deliver to communities in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Afar.
WFP Ethiopia

UN News: You mentioned the resilience of the communities. Can you highlight any projects or strategic support that WFP, perhaps in collaboration with the other donors, may be carrying out in the region to ensure that some communities will be self-reliant instead of depending 100 per cent on humanitarian support? Are there any positive stories?

Mr. Dunford: There are lots of examples where WFP and others are investing in these populations, helping them better meet their future needs. We’re working with small holder farmers, introducing new farming techniques, addressing issues of postharvest loss. We’re working to enhance the education of the populations. We’re trying to ensure that young girls get the opportunity to go to school. We’re investing in nutrition: it’s much more important to address nutritional needs and prevent undernutrition than having to treat it. And then, of course, there’s large-scale resilience infrastructure programmes, giving access to waters, giving access to different types of technologies. We’re even investing in innovation, trying to introduce new innovative solutions, either originating from the region, which, as you know, is very rich and dynamic, or alternatively, offering ourselves as a conduit so innovations that come from abroad can be applied on the ground across the region.

UN News: What sorts of innovations? Could you give us some examples?

Mr. Dunford: Sure. So, it’s [things like] giving populations access to [tools to help them] better understand what the climate is going to be doing0, the weather forecasting. We’re giving them access to micro insurance products [and] we’re giving them an understanding of how better savings and loan programs can work. We’re looking to see how we can enhance or diversify agricultural practices, so they don’t all need to be [so] high tech. It’s more about introducing new approaches to populations who are eager to learn and benefit from the expertise that the World Food Programme and others have to offer.

UN News: And have the populations been responding positively to such innovations?

Mr. Dunford: Very positively. This is a very rich and dynamic region, particularly from [the perspective] of human capital. It’s about how can we, at the UN, support them [and] maximize the opportunities that exist.

Severe drought is killing livestock in the Adadle district in Ethiopia.
© WFP/Michael Tewelde

UN News: So, in the same vein, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has contributed to the drop in commodity prices in Africa. Has there been a positive repose to that as well?  

Mr. Dunford: Very positively. That is why it is essential that [the Initiative] continues, not only for the availability of commodities but also for the fertilizer. You know that region is a huge producer of fertilizer, much of which is destined to [other parts of] the region. A reduction in fertilizer costs translates into increase in yields for the farmers, and in turn an increase in food security. So, all these factors need to be to be considered by decision-makers. We certainly do not want to see a situation where that Initiative, after so much negotiation, is allowed to slip away.

UN News: There are reports from other countries, especially in Africa, that farmers have an excess supply of food that could be procured to avert famine in the Horn of Africa. Does WFP see any possibility of using that surplus as an option to bolster supplies?

Mr. Dunford: We are one of the biggest procurers of commodities across the region. In Eastern Africa last year, WFP in Eastern Africa bought over 744 thousand metric tonnes [and] spent $250 million procuring for our humanitarian operations. But the benefit is providing markets to farmers. We have recently done some analysis with University of California, Davis, we have quantified that every dollar WFP is spending on either procurement or logistics, is multiplying its value as it works towards the economy by 2.3 times. It is estimated that WFP is making a 1.42 per cent contribution to GDP across the region, and importantly, we are creating over 330,000 jobs to satisfy our needs to purchase locally and regionally and then direct those commodities back to our operations. This is one of the best stories I have to offer coming out of 2022 as to how WFP is having an impact on the economic development of the region.

UN News: In light of this, what is your message to governments in the region that are able to provide food that WFP can procure to avert famine in other areas?

Mr. Dunford: We are looking for African solutions to the challenges, and WFP is both the catalyst and [conduit] to enable local economies and the agricultural sector [to] use those resources to meet the immediate needs in the region.  

UN News: What is your message to donors and residents of the Horn of Africa?

Mr. Dunford: Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis. If you think 2022 is bad, beware of what is coming in 2023. This means that we need to continue to engage. We cannot give up on the needs of the population in the Horn. This is a population that has not contributed to climate change. They are not producers of greenhouse gases, but they are on the frontline experiencing the direct impact and shock [of climate change]. So, there is the issue of equity. All of us, irrespective of where we come from, need to address those needs.

We are excited, and we are hopeful that, COP27 [in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt] will address first and foremost the release funding, be it through the Green Climate Fund, or others, to meet immediate humanitarian needs, but also to ensure long-term investment in the effort of vulnerable countries and regions to deal with climate change.

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‘Critical opportunity’ to protect against biological warfare, countries hear

INTERNATIONAL, 28 November 2022, Peace and Security - The international community should push ahead with stalled plans to prevent biological weapons from being developed in the wake of COVID-19, the UN’s top disarmament official insisted on Monday. 
In a speech to the Biological Weapons Convention, Izumi Nakamitsu explained that the issue of verifying whether biological toxins are being made has been deadlocked for 20 years. 

“While bringing biosafety and biosecurity to a much higher prominence, the pandemic also demonstrated the disruption that could be caused if biological agents were to be used in a deliberate manner as weapons of war or terror,” Ms. Nakamitsu said. 

Biosafety first 

Novel ideas need to be found to leverage “the tools of modern science to develop a politically acceptable verification protocol”, the UN disarmament official maintained, as countries gathered for three weeks of meetings – a once in every five-year review of the Biological Weapons Convention, that was delayed by a further year, because of COVID-19

“No topic should be off the table in the quest to strengthen the Convention,” she continued, urging support for peaceful scientific cooperation, enhanced transparency in research and the promotion of emerging technologies for good. 

“This Review Conference therefore presents a critical opportunity for States to come together to strengthen this vital Convention,” Ms. Nakamitsu insisted. 

Consensus-building 

Although it is deemed unlikely that consensus will be achieved on restarting negotiations on legally binding protocols in the coming weeks in Geneva, the designated President of this Ninth Review Conference, Italy’s Leonardo Bencini, said that that there might well be agreement on “the way forward to restart discussions on the issue of verification and compliance”. 

Experimental risk 

Ambassador Bencini further explained that unlike nuclear weapons development “in theory you have hundreds of thousands of facilities, establishments, that could be weaponized”. 

To help to prevent this, some Member States are pushing for an “open and transparent” code of conduct for scientists working within the remit of the Convention, the Ambassador said. 

This would “make it more difficult for anybody to develop programmes without other colleagues knowing this”, he added.  

“We need to have something which is not just concerns the ethical commitment of scientists, to behave in a certain way and to share information among the scientific community but within the scientific community, but also something that could be implemented at the national level.” 

Coronavirus factor 

Ambassador Bencini noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had also highlighted the need for the Biological Weapons Convention to be updated, to take into account the danger of a global pandemic-like threat to humans, animals and plant life. 

The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention is the primary international framework for tackling the threat of biological warfare. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxic weapons. There are currently 184 States Parties to the international treaty. 

“Rising tensions around the globe are instigating a geopolitical crisis, which is putting multilateral disarmament under great stress,” Ms. Nakamitsu said. “Multilateral processes have been stalled or curtailed. The international community should remain vigilant as we have seen norms against other previously prohibited weapons eroding in recent years.” 

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WHO recommends new name for monkeypox

INTERNATIONAL, 28 November 2022, Health - Monkeypox will now be known as mpox, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday, in the wake of reports of racist and stigmatizing language surrounding the name of the disease. 

The decision follows a series of consultations with global experts. 

Both terms will be used simultaneously for a year before the monkeypox name is phased out. 

“This serves to mitigate the concerns raised by experts about confusion caused by a name change in the midst of a global outbreak,” the UN agency said in a statement. 

Concern and change 

Mpox is a rare viral disease that primarily occurs in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, but outbreaks emerged in other parts of the world this year.   

There have more than 80,000 cases, and 55 deaths, with 110 countries affected. 

When the current outbreak expanded, WHO both observed and received reports of racist and stigmatizing language online, in other settings and in some communities. 

“In several meetings, public and private, a number of individuals and countries raised concerns and asked WHO to propose a way forward to change the name,” the agency said. 

Naming new diseases 

The monkeypox name was given in 1970, some 12 years after the virus that causes the disease was discovered in captive monkeys. 

This was before WHO first published best practices on naming diseases in 2015. 

These guidelines recommend that new disease names should aim to minimize unnecessary negative impacts on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare. 

They should also avoid offending any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups. 

Consultative process 

WHO assigns names to new and, very exceptionally, existing diseases, through a consultative process. 

Medical and scientific experts, representatives from government authorities from 45 countries, as well as the general public, were invited to submit their suggestions. 

Based on the consultations, and further discussions with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency has recommended adoption of the mpox synonym. 

Considerations included rationale, scientific appropriateness, extent of current usage, pronounceability, usability in different languages, absence of geographical or zoological references, and the ease of retrieval of historical scientific information. 

WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow suit. 

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Healing Haiti in the face of an increase in sexual violence

INTERNATIONAL, 27 November 2022, Women - It is estimated that at least 30 per cent of Haitian women between the ages of 15 and 30 years old have been the victims of sexual abuse or violence. The Spotlight Initiative, a global Initiative of the United Nations supported by the European Union to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, is working to transform the lives of Haitian women for the better.
Claudine* looks across a sweeping valley high above the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. The lushness of the tropical vegetation, the cool fresh air and the low-hanging clouds are in stark contrast to the dusty, hot and suffocating backstreets of Petionville, lower down the valley, where four years ago she was the victim of sexual abuse which changed her life.

“At the time, I was 16 years old and living with my cousin and her husband,” she said. “I looked after their children, like they were my own.” Claudine should have been at school but after her mother and grandmother died had no other option but to become a domestic worker in her cousin’s house. It was there that she was sexually assaulted by her cousin’s husband.

“I didn’t know what to do but a friend did report the incident to the police, but nothing was done to find the man.”

A refuge from abuse

A year after her daughter was born, Claudine was taken to a refuge for abused minors, many of whom like her were caring for newborns. The refuge, where she has lived now for three years, is run by Rapha House, an organization which is committed to ending the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

Personal items are available for purchase by the residents of Rapha House.
UN Haiti/Daniel Dickinson

Nahomy Augustin is a project coordinator for the international NGO in Haiti. “Many of the young women here are the victims of extreme poverty and insecurity, to the extent that the lack of basic services and opportunities that they have access to means that they become vulnerable to abuse,” she said.

The refuge, which is located in an intentionally inconspicuous building, in a tranquil neighbourhood above Port-au-Prince, supports the young women in the recovery from their traumatic experiences. “We take a holistic approach,” said Nahomy Augustin, “and provide a range of services, including medical and psychological care, accommodation and legal advice as well as family mediation.”

The aim is to help each young woman to return to her family within a year as long as it is safe, but many like Claudine stay longer. The refuge can currently accommodate 24 young women as well as their babies, but a new centre is being built which can provide care to up to 80 people.

The Spotlight Initiative, in partnership with the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is supporting this and other refuges for women in Haiti.

Rape as a weapon

Geraldine Alferis is a gender-based violence expert at UNICEF. “Haiti, and especially the capital Port-au-Prince, is experiencing a surge in gang violence. Thousands of girls and women are being displaced, which makes them very vulnerable to abuse,” she said.  

In July, the United Nations said that rival gangs in the Cite Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince were adopting the “systematic use of rape against women and girls as a weapon of war.”

“Gang rape is a particularly tragic occurrence and so we work to ensure that the survivors get the help they need,” said Geraldine Alferis.

Claudine was sexually assaulted when she was 16 years old.
UN Haiti/Daniel Dickinson

The Spotlight Initiative in Haiti focuses on ending domestic violence, rape, incest, sexual harassment, physical and psychological violence, as well as other restrictions on the freedoms and rights of women and girls. It also aims to provide holistic care to women and girls who are survivors of violence.

On a visit to the refuge, the UN Resident Coordinator in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, said “it was chilling to hear the stories of these young women and girls,” adding that “I also sensed hope and recognized the importance of the services to which they have access.”

“I am proud of the Spotlight Initiative and the much-needed assistance it is providing along with our local partners, but what I heard on this visit is a stark reminder of the urgency to tackle the root causes of sexual violence.”

At the refuge above Port-au-Prince, the survivors like Claudine are able to study, taking school classes that many missed out on when they were younger. They can also take practical classes to learn skills like sewing or soap-making, which can enable them to make a small amount of money, a first important step towards building their independence.

“Going to school is very important,” said Claudine. “If you are working for a family like I did, it is not enough just to receive food and have a bed. You must be given the opportunity to study and make a life for yourself.”  

16 Days of Activism

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Central African Republic: UN chief strongly condemns airfield attack which left one peacekeeper dead

INTERNATIONAL, 26 November 2022, Peace and Security - The UN Secretary-General on Saturday strongly condemned an attack on an airfield in southeastern Central African Republic (CAR) which left one peacekeeper from Morocco dead, while his unit was attempting to secure the perimeter.
In a statement, the UN integrated stabilization mission in CAR, MINUSCA, said the attack at the Obo airfield near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, had taken place on Thursday morning, and that the mission had “immediately opened an investigation into the exact circumstances” surrounding the incident.

Likely war crime

In his statement released via his Spokesperson’s Office in New York, UN chief António Guterres expressed his deepest condolences to the family of the fallen peacekeeper and to the Kingdom and people of Morocco.” 

He recalled that such attacks “may constitute war crimes under international law” and called on the Government of CAR “to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of this tragedy so that they can be brought to justice swiftly.”

MINUSCA reminded that any attack on a ‘blue helmet’ was liable to prosecution by both national and international authorities.

The Security Council also issued a statement late on Friday, condemning the attack "in the strongest terms", stressing that anybody found to be involved in the planning, direction or sponsoring of such attacks, could be sanctioned.

Council members expressed their full support for MINUSCA, and "expressed their deep appreciation" to the mission's troop and peace-contributing nations, while also stressing the importance of the mission continuing to have the necessary capacities to carry out its mandate. 

UN solidarity with CAR

Mr. Guterres reaffirmed the solidarity of the United Nations with the people and Government of CAR, where MINUSCA has been in operation since 2014, with its first priority being to provide protection to civilians caught up in years of conflict.

Following decades of instability, in 2012, the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks leading to them capturing control of the capital, and the transfer of power to a transitional government, but sectarian conflict was exacerbated by the rise of the predominantly Christian anti-Balaka movement.

With its mandate renewed just a few weeks ago for a further year, MINUSCA has continued to play a key role in recent months, countering still widespread insecurity, Mission chief Valentine Rugwabiza told the Security Council in October.

Early that month, three peacekeepers were killed patrolling near the Cameroon border, and MINUSCA has repeatedly called on the Government to lift a ban on UN night flights, for the safety and personnel and effectiveness of humanitarian aid distribution.

‘Robust’ response

The MINUSCA chief said the mission had been taking a “robust, preventive and proactive posture” responding to security alerts from various civilian communities in the face of continuing threats from armed groups.

She promised that the mission would continue to position forces where needed to help restore order, advance disarmament and rehabilitation efforts, and help cut off rebel supply routes.

The latest UN report for the Security Council pointed to the “indispensable contribution” of MINUSCA’s multidimensional mandate, which the search for lasting political solutions continues in CAR, she said.

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First Person: The Liberian police inspector working to end sexual and gender-based violence

INTERNATIONAL, 26 November 2022, Women - Inspector Muna Meah is a Commander in the Liberia National Police Force, and the county coordinator for the Women and Children’s Social Protection Centre in Sanniquille, north-central Liberia. For the past seven years, she has investigated cases of violence against women and children and supported survivors to access the help they need.
"I am in charge of cases pertaining to women and children in Nimba county. The most prevalent cases I handle here are rape, persistent non-support (failure to pay alimony) and domestic violence. Rape is the most commonly reported of these cases. It is a very difficult issue to work on, even for those of us with training and experience, because the impact of rape stays with the survivor for life.

If a child is raped, they are provided counselling, medical and other support but they will never fully recover from the trauma and even physical damage. This is why I support the work of Spotlight Initiative to create awareness and share messages on the prevention of rape and the abuse of women and children. It is important that we work very hard to prevent this violence, and for offenders to be punished.

The newly renovated and equipped Women and Children's Protection Centre at Sanniquille Police Station.
Spotlight Initiative Liberia/Helen Mayelle

‘Women are being heard’

After COVID-19 and Ebola we experienced very high cases of rape because perpetrators had the advantage when children were at home. Women and girls are very vulnerable populations…from time immemorial they have been vulnerable. It’s about now that women are getting onboard and being heard.

We were trained in different areas of handling sexual and gender-based violence and how to work with survivors of rape. Spotlight has a team that can come and monitor us, follow up on cases we have documented and the cases that are forwarded to court. They also collect data on cases.

Through Spotlight, we have seen more women and girls coming up to report cases by themselves. Previously, it would be through other community members who have an understanding of the law and justice processes, but with the awareness created on how to report cases [women and girls] are coming here openly.

Spotlight has also renovated our office building and supplied us with chairs, desks and computers for us to do our work. They gave us a motorcycle for us to follow up on cases from remote communities.

Spotlight provided placards with messages to ‘stop rape’ and others with ‘rape is a crime’. Some placards explain that there are people out there to help victims of rape, and where to report cases of abuse. They also have messages for the offenders saying that ‘if you commit this crime, you will be punished’. People read these placards and change their behaviour. Victims and reporters of cases now know that they are protected by the law if they report. They know that there are people to help them.

16 Days of Activism

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Ministers plan more restrictions on tobacco sales, smoking zones

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government is planning to impose further restrictions on the sale of tobacco, and next year will be the last cigarettes can be sold by supermarkets, if junior health minister Maarten van Ooijen has his way.

According to the Telegraaf, Van Ooijen aims to ensure that within 10 years, cigarettes are only sold in specialist shops. Other outlets, such as petrol stations, will be able to sell them up to 2030 but then that too will be phased out.

Smoking is currently banned in schools, cafes and public buildings, but Van Ooijen also plans to expand that to cover playgrounds, sports grounds and other locations frequented by children, the paper said.

The Telegraaf bases its claims on government sources. Other measures are also being discussed to meet the government’s target of ensuring no children born in 2040 will take up smoking, the paper said.

These include a surge in the price of tobacco products and a ban on water pipes, but there is no government majority in favour of such measures.

However, Van Ooijen has commissioned research into the impact of a major price increase on the sale of tobacco, which is due to be completed within a year, the sources said.

The price of a packet of cigarettes is currently around €8.20 and that is due to rise to €10 by 2024. Ministers are due to discuss smoking strategy next week.

Wages

The price of cigarettes has risen steadily over the years, but so have wages and that means tobacco products have only become marginally more expensive, Maastricht University researcher Cloé Geboers said earlier this week.

Last year, research published by Maastricht University showed that the cost of smoking only becomes an issue for smokers when prices go up by an enormous amount, with some 50% saying they would only quit at a price of €60 per pack.

In Australia, cigarettes now cost around €24 for 20 and in Britain they go up in price by inflation plus 2%. Some 20% of the Dutch population smoke regularly but the government set a target in 2018 of ensuring just 5% do so by 2040.

(DutchNews)

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