WHO, UNHCR to boost health services for refugees, displaced people

Many live in overcrowded camps, settlements, makeshift shelters or reception centers. (Twitter)

New Delhi (NVI): To strengthen and advance public health services for the millions of forcibly displaced people globally amid Covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency have signed a new agreement.

The agreement, which was signed yesterday, updates and expands an existing 1997 accord between the two organizations. According to WHO, a key aim this year will be to support ongoing efforts to protect some 70 million forcibly displaced people from COVID-19.

Among these, around 26 million are refugees, 80 per cent of whom are sheltered in low and middle-income countries with weak health systems. Another 40 million internally displaced people also require assistance, the global health organization said.

UNHCR and WHO have worked together for more than 20 years, safeguarding the health of some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

They have collaborated to provide health services to refugees in every region – from the onset of an emergency and through protracted situations. The organisations have consistently advocated for the inclusion of refugees and stateless people in the national public health plans of host countries.

The two organizations are working side by side to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that forcibly displaced people can access the health services they need, to keep safe from coronavirus and other health challenges.

“UNHCR’s long-term partnership with WHO is critical to curb the coronavirus pandemic and other emergencies – day in, day out, it is improving and saving lives of millions of people forced to flee their homes,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

“Our strengthened partnership will directly benefit refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people, and those who are stateless. It leads to better emergency response and will make the best use of the resources of both our two organizations for public health solutions across all our operations globally,” he added.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The principle of solidarity and the goal of serving vulnerable people underpin the work of both our organizations.”

“We stand side by side in our commitment to protect the health of all people who have been forced to leave their homes and to ensure that they can obtain health services when and where they need them,” he added.

During the signing, UNHCR also joined the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which allows individuals, companies, and organizations all over the world to directly contribute to the global response being led by WHO to help countries prevent, detect and respond to coronavirus.

Launched on March 13, the fund has raised total USD 214 million, USD 10 million will support UNHCR’s work on urgent needs such as risk communication and community engagement around hygiene practices; provision of hygiene and medical supplies and the establishment of isolation units in countries such as Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, South Sudan and Uganda.

The funds will also support innovative global preparedness activities.

“By joining forces with the Solidarity Response Fund, UNHCR can work together on the ground with WHO to better ensure that the preparedness, prevention and public health response measures to COVID-19 are in place and that much-needed aid can reach refugees, displaced people and their host communities,” said Grandi.

The fund was launched by the UN Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation at WHO’s request in mid-March and it is only way for companies and individuals to contribute directly to the work of WHO and partners on the ground.

More than USD 100 million from the fund has already been disbursed, ensuring early vital work in the long fight against the pandemic.