By Mohammad Mazhari

Environmental protection and climate action reduce opportunity for viruses: UN official 

July 26, 2020 - 21:2

TEHRAN - COVID-19 is a new virus to humans, and not much was known about it when it first appeared in China. The pandemic has caused an unprecedented health crisis, while the measures necessary to contain the virus has triggered an economic downturn.

 It seems to be more than a health crisis. It is has caused an economic crisis, a humanitarian crisis, and a human rights crisis that necessitates a multi-pronged approach that addresses this complexity and interconnectedness. 

In this regard, Maher Nasser, director of Outreach Division in the United Nations Department of Global Communications (DGC), tells the Tehran Times that COVID-19 has created the biggest and most serious crisis to confront the world community since the United Nations was established 75 years ago.  

"The United Nations mobilized early and launched a comprehensive response that is based on three pillars: A health pillar, a socio-economic pillar, and a recovery pillar," says Nasser.

While researchers are working hard to identify effective treatments, up until now there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat it.

On the accusations made by the U.S. against China on the spread of COVID-19, Maher Nasser says the pandemic is a zoonotic disease, infects humans when a virus makes the jump from a wild animal to a human.  Experts say that those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms, and those with serious illness should be hospitalized.

However, possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are under study and are being tested through clinical trials.

About the UN's role in containing the COVID-19, he said that the World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating efforts to develop vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19.

"The most effective way to protect yourself and others is to be careful with you're personal hygiene, clean hands properly, cover your cough, wear a mask in public, especially in closed spaces, and practice social distancing," Nasser recommends. 

"We have noted a sharp increase in misinformation about the virus and its impact and has created an initiative to address the ‘infodemic’ that is complicating the response across the world. You can find details and join the global effort to fight the infodemic ShareVerified."  

On the surging of Coronavirus cases in some countries such as the U.S., Nasser notes, "The dramatic increase in cases around the world, not just U.S., is worrying and is of great concern to everyone."

The virus nos no borders. No country is safe until all countries are free from the virus. 

He added that a high rate of Coronavirus cases in the U.S. has not been even in all states.

“Some states that had few cases in the spring are now seeing a rise in infections, while states where the numbers peaked in April, such as New York, has achieved remarkable results in flattening the curve and reducing the number of new infections," Nasser stated.

In this context, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing on Tuesday that "contact tracing is essential for every country, in every situation. It can prevent individual cases from becoming clusters and clusters turning into community transmission."

"Among the key drivers of zoonotic pandemics risk are the over-exploitation of wildlife, such as the unsustainable, illegal or unregulated trade in high-risk species," Maher Nasser explains. He stressed the need for strong leadership, community engagement, and a comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission. 

Referring to reasons and implications of U.S. withdrawal from the WHO, Nasser pointed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressing the U.S. in which he said, "It is not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus."

Nasser also believes that unity must prevail so that the international community can work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.

Given that the U.S. government was the WHO's largest funder, critics argue that percentages of funding share can influence decision making in international organizations such as the UN.

Nasser, however, tells the Tehran Times that all international organizations work according to the mandates given to them by their member states and in line with their founding documents. 

"Budgets are either assessed or voluntary and are implemented according to the financial rules of each organization and with the organization's governing body's approval," he explains.
 
Trump has repeatedly accused the WHO of being lenient toward China. American officials claim that international agencies and institutions are biased. 

However, the director of the Outreach Division in the UN Department of Global Communications says that international organizations work within the mandates given to them by their member states and operate within the technical and operational limitations agreed by those member states. 

On the accusations made by the U.S. against China on the spread of COVID-19, Nasser says the pandemic is a zoonotic disease, infects humans when a virus makes the jump from a wild animal to a human. 

"In this case, it happened in China; in other cases, it happened in other countries and other regions, as was the case with MERS, Ebola, Zika, H1N1, and so on," Nasser notes. "The key to understanding this is through science and facts." 

"In a way, nature is sending us a message with COVID-19. We need to take care of nature," he stresses.
 
Nasser calls for reducing the opportunities for viruses to jump from an animal to humans, which requires environmental protection as well as climate action that cuts environmental degradation and ends illegal trade in wildlife.

"Among the key drivers of zoonotic pandemics risk are the over-exploitation of wildlife, such as the unsustainable, illegal or unregulated trade in high-risk species," he states.
 
"The increased human-wildlife contacts, urbanization, industrialization, agricultural intensification, more international flights, increased demand for animal protein, and complex food supply chains has paved the way for spreading zoonotic pandemics," Nasser concludes.

Finally, he predicts that "climate change as zoonoses thrive in warmer and wetter conditions."

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