WHO Slams Both Russian and Ethiopian Forces for Turning Civilians into ‘Pawns of War’
WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at press conference on 30 March 2022

In some of his most forceful remarks to date, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other senior WHO officials slammed both Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Ethiopia’s blockade of Tigray for both withholding vital health and humanitarian aid – as well as deliberately targeting civilians or putting them in harms way.

Speaking from Doha, Tedros called Russia’s war in Ukraine and invasion and slammed its continuing attacks on health facilities, saying, “We are outraged that attacks on health care are continuing. Since the beginning of the Russian Federation invasion there have been 82 attacks on health care facilities, leading to at least 72 deaths and 43 injuries, including patiens and health workers.  Attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law and must stop immediately.”

As for Ethiopia’s warn in Tigray, he added that while WHO had welcomed last week’s declaration of a humanitarian truce in Tigray, between Tigrayan rebel forces and the Ethiopan government, “a week has passed and no food has been allowed into Tigray.

“Every hour makes a difference when people are starving to death. No food has reached Tigray since mid-December and almost nothing has been delivered since August. of last year. “The siege of 6 million people in Tigray by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces for more than 500 days is one of the longest in modern history,” Tedros said.  

WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies, Dr Mike Ryan

“What’s so unusual about situations like we see in Ukraine like we see in Tigray, is that this is not is this is not people caught up in the fog of war. It is people being directly targeted, directly used as strategic implements, as chess pieces in horrific murders,” added Dr Mike Ryan, WHO Executive Director of Health Emergencies, Dr .  The world needs to look at why we end up with so many groups of people being used as pawns of war.”

Ryan added that the situation in Ukraine and Tigray, are both “a world of difference between that and a conflict situation where we struggle to get aid and assistance and because of conflict and all sides are trying to help in a way – and we struggle just because of conflict.

“That’s a very big difference between that situation, and the situation of access is being actively denied for the population – where actually cutting off of people is part of part of the tactics. It’s part of the military strategy.”

Tedros also called out the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan for the sudden turnabout last week that led to the banning of girls from secondary school classrooms – just hours after they had arrived to resume their studies for the first time since the fundamentalist Islamic group seized control of the government last August.

“Women and girls are especially at risk from lack of access to health services and lack of access to education,” Tedros said. “Last week’s decision by the Taliban leadership to ban girls from school is very troubling.”

Beseiged Mariupol remains blocked to WHO relief workers

Ian Clarke, WHO Incident Manager for Ukraine

In terms of recent relief efforts, WHO’s Incident Manager for Ukraine, Ian Clarke, said that over the past few days WHO had been able to dispatch more than 21 metric tons of medicines and other health supplies to eight locations in disputed parts of Ukraine, adding “We tried to get into Mariupol.  We have been unsuccessful today, together with our interagency partners, but we have been able to access places like Kherson”. Mariupol has been under a prolonged Russian seige that has also prevented aid groups from bringing in food and medical supplies, while Kherson already fell to Russian control several weeks ago.

Clarke added that a $57 million fund-raising drive to support short-term healthcare needs of Ukranians in the country as well as those who have abroad had nearly reached its goal.

“We’re now in the process of working with our health partners, both in Ukraine and the hosting countries to come up with a comprehensive strategic response plan that will cover the healthcare needs for Ukrainians regardless of where they are located, both in Ukraine or in hosting countries. And that will provide a longer term outlook,” Clarke said.

Remains committed to 70% COVID vaccination target – as virus continues to evolve

In other remarks, the WHO Director General said that he remains committed to a 70% goal for vaccinating people low- and middle-income countries against COVID-19, despite current trends that reflect a sharp decline in infections and less lethal variants. This, despite an undercurrent of criticism from both countries and some donors that a strategy of vaccinating the most high-risk groups like older people and health care workers might be preferable to such a broad goal.

“Even as high income countries roll out fourth doses, one third of the world’s population has yet to receive a single dose, including 83% of the population in Africa,” said Tedros.””This is not acceptable to me, and it should not be acceptable to anyone.” 

WHO is launching it’s third COVID response strategy since the pandemic began, he added, in which COVID vaccination of under-covered groups would remain a key priority along with better access to treatments, and continued testing and surveilance.

“This is our third plan and it could, or should be our last plan,” Tedros said, explaining that the plan etches out three scenarios for how the pandemic will evolve – from best to worst cases. As part of that, he said WHO is also launching a new strategy to scale up genomic surveillance globally for pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential.

“Based on what we know now, the most likely scenario is that the virus continues to evolve. But the severity of disease it causes is reduced over time as immunity increases due to vaccination and infection. Periodic spikes in cases may occur as immunity wanes, which may require very early boosting for vulnerable populations,” he said.

“In the best case scenario, we may see less severe variants emerge, and boosters or new formulations of vaccines won’t be necessary. In the worst case scenario, a more violent and highly transmissible variant emerges. Against this new threat, peoples’ protection against disease and death either from prior vaccination or infection will wane rapidly. Addressing this situation would require significantly altered vaccines, and making sure that they get to the people who are most vulnerable.”

Tedros was speaking from Doha where he was meeting with Qatari officials, shortly after delivering an address to the World Government Summit, taking place in Dubai. 


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