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U.N. launches US$2 billion anti-virus plan

The U.N. asked governments and private donors to provide US$2 billion to meet emergency health needs in the poorest countries coping with the pandemic.

The United Nations appealed to governments and private donors on Wednesday to provide $2 billion for a global plan to meet emergency health needs in the world's poorest countries coping with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan aims to deliver lab testing equipment, medical treatment supplies and health workers to where they are most needed through airlifts and hubs spread across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Overseen by the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, the 80-page funding appeal and plan also would set up washing stations in refugee camps and settlements and pay for public information campaigns on how best to protect against the novel coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is menacing the whole of humanity and so the whole of humanity must fight back," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. "Individual country responses are not going to be enough. Wealthy countries with strong health systems are buckling under the pressure."

Guterres said if the plan has enough financial backing, it will save many lives by providing humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations with laboratory supplies for testing, and with medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers.

“This is a matter of basic human solidarity," he said. "It is a moral imperative and in everyone’s interests."

Averting a breeding ground

Though it is one-thousandth the size of the proposed U.S. emergency $2 trillion relief legislation, the plan would pay for nine months of global assistance starting in April, according to Mark Lowcock, the U.N. undersecretary general who oversees OCHA.

It also includes contributions from the World Health Organization, World Food Program, International Organization for Migration, U.N. Development Program, U.N. Population Fund, U.N. Habitat, Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF.

"We know the virus is now arriving in some of the places least equipped to deal with it. Once there it will undoubtedly hit the most vulnerable hardest — including women, older people, people with disabilities, and refugees, migrants and displaced people," Lowcock said in a statement.

WHO will deliver lab and medical equipment, UNICEF and UNHCR will install hand washing stations in camps and settlements, and UNICEF will launch public information campaigns, he said.

WFP is to establish eight hubs and provide air transport services through cargo airlifts and passenger transport, while building supply chains and contracting charter vessels to quickly deliver humanitarian aid to the people who need it most.

"With a pandemic of this nature, there can be no half measures. So, together, we ask governments to do two things. First, pledge your support, financially and politically, to this response plan. We need $2 billion for the nine months from April," said Lowcock.

"Second, continue to support existing humanitarian response plans," he said. "If funding is diverted from those plans to tackle COVID-19, we would create circumstances in which cholera, measles and meningitis can thrive, in which even more children become malnourished, and in which extremists can take control. And that would be the perfect breeding ground for COVID-19."