COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate conflict, humanitarian crises: WHO

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on 11 March, 2020.
World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on COVID-19 virus at the WHO headquaters in Geneva on 11 March, 2020. AFP file photo

COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate many issues the world is facing, such as years of conflict and other humanitarian crises, the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, while calling for continuity of essential health services.

Although COVID-19 has rightly captured the world's attention, many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East, are still reeling from years of conflict and other humanitarian crises, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday at a routine briefing, Xinhua reported.

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He said the pandemic, and the restrictions put in place to suppress it, are taking a heavy toll on 220 million people in protracted emergencies. While it is too early to assess the full impact of so-called lockdowns and other containment measures, up to 132 million more people may go hungry in 2020, in addition to the 690 million who went hungry last year.

According to the WHO chief, deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the pandemic could force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever by the end of this year, with millions more falling behind in learning.

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Meanwhile, the economic impact of the pandemic in humanitarian settings can aggravate already dire living conditions, such as more displacement, food shortages, risk of malnutrition, decrease in access to essential services, and mental health problems, said Tedros.

"The pandemic is teaching us that health is not a luxury item; it's the foundation of social, economic and political stability," he said. "The impacts of the pandemic go far beyond health, and so do the needs, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable countries."

The WHO chief called on the international community to use Covid-19 as an opportunity to build health systems that are more resilient and more able to withstand the impact of health emergencies.