World, Middle East, Europe

Health staff must be protected in Palestine, Israel: WHO

WHO chief says COVID-19 testing, vaccination severely impacted amid violence in Israel, occupied Palestine

Peter Kenny   | 17.05.2021
Health staff must be protected in Palestine, Israel: WHO


The risks to health care workers during the recent violence in occupied Palestinian territory and Israel is "highly concerning," the top official of the World Health Organization said on Monday.

"Health workers and infrastructure should always be protected, and I call for leaders on all sides to ensure respect for these vital humanitarian laws," said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus during a twice-weekly COVID-19 press webinar.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed, including 59 children and 35 women, in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip since last week, according to Palestinian health officials. More than 1,305 people have also been injured and dozens of buildings destroyed or damaged.

Ten Israelis have also been killed in Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

 'Increase vaccine allocations'

At the webinar, Tedros called on vaccine makers worldwide, including Europe, India, and the US to step up their allocation of doses to the COVAX facility for equitable vaccine supply to poorer nations.

He said that over the weekend, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the situation in Israel and occupied Palestinian territory could potentially "unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis."

"The health situation is also highly concerning and in the recent escalation of conflict, dozens of incidents involving health workers and health facilities have occurred," said Tedros, without mentioning Gaza.

He said that in addition, COVID-19 testing and vaccination had been severely impacted.

"This creates health risks for the world as a whole. Protection of health workers and health facilities is imperative in all circumstances," said Tedros.

Mike Ryan, director of the WHO's Emergency Program, said during the webinar: "In the context of the conflict, the health and lives of civilians need to be protected. Also, the healthcare provided to them must be protected.

"All attacks on healthcare need to be stopped immediately, and people need access to essential healthcare."

Turning to the COVID-19 pandemic globally, Tedros said that for a second successive week, worldwide cases and deaths from the virus have declined.

'Pandemic far from over'

Tedros warned that the situation in a number of countries "continues to be very concerning," and that the pandemic was a "long way from over, and it will not be over anywhere until it's over everywhere."

On vaccine supply, he cited an overnight UNICEF statement, outlining a huge shortfall in vaccine supply to the COVAX facility.

"The surge in cases has compromised global vaccine supply and there is already a shortfall of 190 million doses to COVAX by the end of June," said the WHO chief.

"COVAX works and has so far delivered 65 million doses to 124 countries and economies but it is dependent on countries and manufacturers honoring their commitments."

AstraZeneca had steadily increased the speed and volume of its deliveries and the world needs other manufacturers to follow suit, said Tedros.

"Pfizer has committed to providing 40 million doses of vaccines with COVAX this year, but the majority of these would be in the second half of 2021," he added.

"We need doses right now and I call on them to bring forward deliveries as soon as possible."

The WHO chief said COVAX partners were still in discussion with Johnson & Johnson to receive doses in the second half of 2021 and "we do not know when they will arrive."

Moderna has signed a deal for 500 million jabs with COVAX, but the majority has been promised only for 2022.

"We need Moderna to bring hundreds of millions of these forward into 2021 due to the acute moment of this pandemic," said Tedros.

He added that once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, "we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to COVAX."

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