Remarks by Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, at the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) Annual Report Launch

14 September 2020

New York, 14 September 2020 - "Excellencies. Colleagues. On behalf of everyone at UNICEF, we welcome the opportunity to contribute to this report’s launch.

"And we recognize the critical importance of the GPMB and organizations like the WHO in shaping not only this report — but the future of preparedness and the international public health architecture.

"When we presented the first report last September, we highlighted the risks of not being prepared for a pandemic.

"This year’s report is not about the risks. It’s about the consequences of failing to heed this warning. 

"As the data in the report clearly shows, COVID-19 is a global crisis made worse by a lack of preparedness at the global, national and even community level.

"This lack of preparedness forced many countries to use the bluntest of weapons in response — including lockdowns and travel disruptions that have affected nearly every aspect of people’s lives.

"The hardest hit are the poorest and most vulnerable. And in particular, the most vulnerable of all — children.

"This is a children’s crisis.

"Over a billion children are losing out on an education.

"Health systems are stretched, and mothers and children are going without basic services. Based on some projections, we could see time in the next six months when up to 6,000 children die per day from a preventable cause.

"Lifesaving vaccination campaigns have largely ground to a halt — including for measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and polio. Putting a generation of children at risk of preventable disease.   

"Food and nutrition systems are strained — which could result in an additional 6.7 million children under five years of age suffering from wasting, and an additional 10,000 deaths per month.

"We’re seeing rises in violence, child labour and even child marriage as lockdown measures and budgetary constraints keep children from the protections and services like counselling that they need.

"Communities without reliable or clean water systems are at a huge disadvantage in reducing the spread of the virus. Two out of five people in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to handwashing facilities at all.

"And we’re seeing economic hardships that could push another 100 million children into poverty.

"As a humanitarian organization, UNICEF is working around the clock to rapidly support the global response.

"Thanks to our donors and partners across the humanitarian system, we’re delivering lifesaving supplies…working with communities to provide information and messaging to prevent infection…providing online and distance learning to millions of out-of-school children…keeping vaccination campaigns up and running…and providing water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to communities battling COVID-19.

"But as a development organization, we recognize that better and more co-ordinated preparedness could have helped us control the virus more quickly, and with fewer deaths.

"As the report makes clear, we need sustained investment — not only to deal with the pandemic before us, but to prepare for future threats. This includes creating a dedicated mechanism to allow the rapid deployment of funds at the beginning of a pandemic. UNICEF calls on the public and private sectors to join forces to develop new financing mechanisms to rapidly invest in system protection and emergency preparedness over the short and long-terms.

"We also require a stronger global architecture for health security to develop specific strategies for managing transportation disruptions, school closures, food shortages, and stretched health systems. This global co-ordination is not only essential to the equitable distribution of a vaccine — which UNICEF is supporting as a lead agency of the COVAX facility. It is also a necessary ingredient to help communities handle the devastating knock-on effects of other health emergencies in the future.

"And finally, we need to view all health emergencies through a single, global lens. COVID-19 reminds us that what affects one country affects all countries. And so UNICEF joins the Board’s call for a new international framework for health emergency preparedness. One that will help all countries respond to health emergencies, while building better, stronger and more prepared health systems for the future.

"We’re in this together.

"We must respond together. We must re-build together. 

"And we must prepare together.

"Because this is not the last emergency we will face. It will happen again.

"UNICEF is proud to stand with our global health partners today as we emerge from the pandemic stronger and more united than before, and design the systems needed to better manage these emergencies in the future.

"Thank you."

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