China puts public health concerns first in its fight against COVID-19

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Nicholas Rosellini
Nicholas Rosellini

By Nicholas Rosellini

2020 marks my fourth year at the United Nations in China. 2020 is also a watershed for the UN – the 75th anniversary of its founding and the beginning of a decade of action, with only ten years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And here in China, 2020 is the year the government has vowed to eradicate poverty across the country.

However, the recent outbreak of a Novel Coronavirus is threatening to destabilize these efforts unless everyone, from governments to the private sector, step up and support those most in need.

The COVID-19 is a devastating outbreak with an unprecedented response. Like many of you, I follow the situation on a regular basis. Today, we stand at 88,948 confirmed cases globally, the vast majority of these still here in China. Many unknowns still exist and around the world many are feeling anxious.

Since the outbreak was confirmed and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31st 2019, the situation has developed quickly and continues to evolve. Given the dynamic nature of the situation, China has mobilized itself and adopted comprehensive and rigorous preventive and control measures. For this, I must congratulate the Chinese government, as despite the severe social and economic impact many of these preventive measures are having on the Chinese people, the government has put public health concerns first.

At the UN we hope these measures are short in duration, since, even though China’s health system has been significantly strengthened over the past years, any country’s health system would be challenged by an outbreak of a new virus with many unknowns, as we are seeing now.

And importantly, we must make sure this emergency doesn’t detract from the development goal of this year – eliminating extreme poverty. Poorer communities without the capacity or resources may be disproportionately affected, and there’s also the impact on the health system for people not necessarily suffering from COVID-19, but from other illnesses which may not be prioritized because of the attention on the coronavirus. Beyond the health system, there’s also the impact on the education system with children not being able to go to school and the broader economic impact as well.

Since the beginning of the outbreak the international community has mobilized to help the people of China. At the UN, we’ve urgently procured much-needed emergency supplies, from masks to monitoring stations. And aside from supporting the immediate health impacts, the UN is ready to support China with the broader socio-economic impacts, both now and in the long term.

Each UN agency stands firmly together with WHO, bringing their own development expertise. Already UNDP is translating the key health messages across regional dialects, to make sure those vulnerable ethnic minority groups have access to this critical information they need. UNICEF has created an online information portal for parents to help them keep their children safe. UNAIDS has launched a nationwide survey to make sure all those living with HIV are still receiving the help they need during this difficult time.

All these actions together are supporting our mandate – to leave no one behind, especially during this very challenging time.

My sincere hope is that we come together as an international community with China, without discrimination and without stigma. As the UN Secretary-General has said: “At this time of heightened anxiety we must stand together in solidarity and compassion”- I cannot echo his message enough.

Zhong Guo Jia You- stay strong, the United Nations system stand firmly with the people of China during this critical time.

(The author is the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in China. )

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