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$2b UN appeal to combat virus

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26th-Mar-2020       
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New York Times  :
Nations reeling from conflict, poverty and deficient health care will be unable to contain the coronavirus without significant international assistance, risking that the disease will ricochet back to recovering populations in a deadly global cycle, the United Nations warned in a new $2 billion appeal to combat the pandemic.
Even as they called on the world to fund defenses against the virus, UN officials also urged continuing donations to humanitarian crises to prevent those nations from becoming even more vulnerable to the disease.
"Countries battle their own catastrophes at home" and "are rightly prioritising their citizens," Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said in an interview Tuesday. "But the hard truth is, in order to protect their own people, it's going to be smart to help the poorest countries engage for this response, too."
The money to confront the coronavirus in 53 nations suffering from instability - in South America, Africa the Middle East and Asia - is not immediately available. Funds will be raised over the next nine months as UN agencies and private aid organisations combine efforts for the appeal, and for a new response plan that will be released Wednesday during an online news briefing. Details of the plan were provided in advance to The New York Times.
In Africa, which the plan identified as among the most vulnerable regions, health services are unequipped to manage coronavirus patients.
The plan cited reports of only 25 beds in intensive care units in Malawi's public hospitals, serving a population in 17 million, and only six beds in Chad, along with a single available ventilator in the entire country. There are no beds in the intensive care unit of the main infectious diseases hospital in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, the plan found.
Attacks on hospitals and medical workers - including in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria and Burkina Faso - have severely degraded health care in conflict zones, the plan said.
Refugees fleeing political unrest and poverty in Venezuela have overwhelmed medical systems in neighboring states, as have Rohingya   Muslims who faced persecution in Myanmar and escaped to Bangladesh, Lowcock said.
Palestinians living in refugee camps across the Middle East are at high risk of catching the coronavirus in their densely populated living areas. The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees issued a $14 million emergency appeal last week to respond to the virus during what it called its worst financial crisis ever; the Trump administration cut its funding of about $60 million annually to the organisation in 2018.
But the plan also presents a dire scenario if donor nations reduce aid to humanitarian crises worldwide, like famine in Yemen and Syria's worsening civil war. An estimated 100 million people receive UN assistance for a raft of urgent needs - from staving off measles and cholera to preventing malnourishment.
Without continued assistance, the plan concluded, crisis areas "would be the perfect breeding ground for the coronavirus" and could suffer millions of deaths.
The new appeal comes on the heels of the UN's record-high $18 billion raised for humanitarian crises in 2019. Lowcock acknowledged the financial strain that the coronavirus appeal would impose on donor nations, but also said it was vital to keep the disease at bay.
Lowcock's agency has so far distributed $15 million, and will announce about $60 million more Wednesday.
The World Health Organization, another UN agency, has received about $195 million so far from donor nations and $69 million in pledged funding. The WHO has sent masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment to 68 countries; it has also shipped 1.5 million testing kits to 120 countries.
But the UN's overall response to the pandemic so far has been seen as relatively meager and disjointed. The 15-member UN Security Council - including the five world powers that make up its permanent members - has also been criticised for failing to move to stop the spread of the virus.

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