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REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

9 July 2019

Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing, which was attended by the spokespersons for the Human Rights Council, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Refugee Agency and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

Human Rights Council update

Rolando Gomez, for the Human Rights Council, said that the Council was exhausting the final list of speakers for the general debate on racism, discrimination and xenophobia and should start on its next interactive discussion around 11.15 a.m., on the human rights situation in Sudan. There would be oral updates presented by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmore, on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Rapporteur of the Advisory Council for Human Rights of the Ministry of Justice of Sudan, Osama Hemeida, on behalf of the Government of Sudan. This discussion had been mandated by the Council in September last year, well before the recent crisis started, but would certainly address recent developments in the country.

A discussion on the Democratic Republic of Congo would start at around 4 p.m. this afternoon. It would include a presentation by Bacre W. Ndiaye and Sheila B. Keetharuth, Members of the Team of Experts, of a report on the Kasaï region that was published last week. There would also be oral updates by Mr. Gilmore for the OHCHR and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as statements by the Director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Abdoul Aziz Thioye, and the Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Marie-Ange Mushobekwa.

Tomorrow, a panel discussion would start at 9 a.m. on States’ efforts to promote and protect the rights of older persons. Thereafter, the Council would move on to the presentation of the last series of country specific reports, namely on Ukraine; Central African Republic; Myanmar, with a special focus on the Rohingya and other minorities; Nicaragua; and Georgia. There would then be a general debate on item 10 (technical assistance and capacity building) which would spill over to Thursday. Thursday and Friday, the Council would take action on 26 draft resolutions, which addressed a wide range of issues. Six of them were country specific, and the others dealt with thematic issues. All were available on the extranet.

World Health Organization’s New Essential Medicines and Diagnostics Lists

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said a new essential medicines and diagnostics lists would be published today.

Dr. Nicola Magrini, Secretary of the Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines for the WHO, said the essential medicines list was a flagship, evidence-based tool which helped countries prioritize the medicines that should be available at the global and national levels. It helped determine which medicines health system should be able to provide to citizens in a universal health coverage context. This year, 65 applications had been examined and about two thirds had been approved. On cancer, after examining several requests, the committee had approved and defined as essential medicines that were highly effective and that provided significant benefits — such as improving survival by at least four to six months. New oral drugs for prostate cancer, for instance, had been added to the list. On antibiotics, the committee had reviewed seven new antibiotics. Three of them, which were active against the most severe infections, were added to the list of essential medicines. Other additions included new oral anticoagulants; new biologics and their respective biosimilars for chronic inflammatory conditions; and heat-stable carbetocin for the prevention of postpartum hemorrhage — one of the main causes of maternal deaths—after it had been proven to be equivalent to oxytocin.

Details about the medicines that had been rejected would be published on the WHO’s website.

Adriana Velazquez, Senior Advisor for Medical Devices, Innovation, Access and Use of Essential Medicines and Health Products for the WHO, said that the new diagnostics list was divided in two: tests that could be done at the community level or used for self-testing; and additional tests that were to be conducted in laboratory settings, such as tests for cancer. It was important to note that both lists had been extended, both for communicable and non-communicable diseases. The lists did not mention brand names or models, but they included technical specifications for procurement. A call for submissions for the third list had been launched; applications would be analyzed next year. This next list would include more neglected tropical diseases and infectious diseases, as well as a section about hormones.

Answering a question on whether anything had been removed from the essential medicines list and how influential the WHO expected it to be, Mr. Magrini said that heat-stable carbetocin could be a valid alternative to oxytocin depending on the context. Some changes and deletions had been made, particularly as regarded HIV. Only the best available regimens were now listed. The expected impact was a move towards progressive universalism, whereby the committee selected the drugs, and they would be made available to all. An impact on government decisions was also expected: governments should select these medicines first for their population. The list was meant to be a standard for all.

Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization (WHO), said the WHO and its partners had supported one hundred countries to implement joint external evaluations to assess the national capacity to prevent, detect and respond to epidemics and health emergencies. On 5 July, the WHO Health Emergency Programme had concluded its 100th joint external evaluation in support of the implementation of International Health Regulations. The 100th country to implement this evaluation was Haiti. The evaluations had helped countries identify priority gaps in their capacities for preparing for, and managing, health emergencies. The evaluations also helped countries and international public health stakeholders to determine the specific critical actions that countries could take to strengthen capacities and mobilize resources. In that context, WHO had identified critical gaps and developed priority actions to strengthen technical areas. It was a voluntary, multi-sectoral process, which involved the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Organization of Animal Health and other international partners.

South Sudan

Charlie Yaxley, for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), read out the following statement:

“Exactly eight years ago South Sudan gained independence and became the world’s youngest nation. Since then, the country has tragically seen more war than peace. Today UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing to its leaders to speed efforts to end what has become Africa’s largest displacement crisis.

The Revitalised Peace Agreement, signed by the warring parties on 12 September 2018, established a foundation for peace. Progress has been made but with key areas of tension still unresolved, peace is far from certain.

UNHCR believes is essential that representatives from the refugee and internally displaced communities are active and meaningful participants in the peace process. Any convincing agreement must include clear and transparent provisions for reconciliation. Mechanisms for seeking justice must be clear and they must be trusted. Many South Sudanese have been displaced repeatedly. Their faith in these processes are vital to their success.

Provisions must also be made for young people. The crisis has disproportionately impacted children, who make up nearly two-thirds of the refugee population. Ensuring that young South Sudanese – including refugees - have access to a proper education and opportunities to fulfil their potential is essential if South Sudan is to become a prosperous and peaceful nation.

More than 2.3 million South Sudanese are currently living as refugees in neighbouring countries, while 1.9 million have been internally displaced inside the country. Through the South Sudan Regional Refugee Response Plan, UNHCR and partners have appealed for $1.4 billion to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees. With only 21 per cent of funding received, refugees' needs far outweigh available resources.”

Working group of experts on consumer protection

Catherine Huissoud, for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that a group of experts on consumer protection was meeting at the Palais des Nations to discuss consumer protection measures in a digitized economy. Consumers could play a role in fostering sustainable development when they were adequately protected and informed, and when their rights were guaranteed. The goal was to identify ways in which consumer protection could contribute to economic development in the digital sphere, taking into account that international standards and national laws did not meet current challenges. The discussions would be summarized in a release that would be put out today.

UNCTAD’s Secretary General would sign tomorrow a memorandum of understanding with the International Organization of Migration, aiming to make migration an asset for development. By joining forces, the two organizations hoped to contribute to a better understanding of migration flows, and thus foster an improved management of the free circulation of people and goods, as well as the creation of better laws.

Announcements

Alessandra Vellucci, for the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, said that the Human Rights Committee would begin this afternoon its review of the report of Paraguay.

Ms. Vellucci added that the Secretary General was in Nairobi, in Kenya, where he had spoken at the opening session of the African Regional High-level Conference on Counter Terrorism and Prevention of Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism. He would also travel to Mozambique to take stock of the recovery efforts in the areas impacted by cyclones Idai and Kenneth. The Secretary-General would start his visit in the capital, Maputo, where he would meet senior authorities.

Ms. Vellucci said that the High-Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals would take place in New York from today to 18 July, with the ministerial segment taking place 16-18 July. It would gather leaders from civil society, the private sector, the United Nations system, specialized agencies, academia and other stakeholders to review the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The theme was "Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality," and 47 countries had chosen to present their national voluntary reviews during the forum.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 would be launched today at 12 p.m. EDT during a press conference in New York with the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, and Francesca Perucci, Chief of the Statistical Services Branch at the United Nations Statistics Division. The press conference would be webcast.

She added that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was reviewing today the report of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The webcast for this briefing is available here: http://bit.ly/unog090719