U.S. Rescues American Held Hostage in Nigeria 

31 Oct

Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State

The United States is committed to the safe return of all U.S. citizens taken captive.  We delivered on that commitment late last night in Nigeria, where some of our bravest and most skilled warriors rescued a U.S. citizen after a group of armed men took him hostage across the border in Niger.

Thanks to the extraordinary courage and capabilities of our military, the support of our intelligence professionals, and our diplomatic efforts, the hostage will be reunited with his family. 

We will never abandon any American taken hostage.


Amid Rising Violence against Women, Girls, Spotlight Initiative Investing $4 Million to End Scourge in Guyana, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Country Programme Event

31 Oct

Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed’s video message on the occasion of the Spotlight Initiative high-level launch event for the Guyana country programme titled “Sustainable Development Goals Decade of Action — End Gender-based Violence and Family Violence for Unity, Equality and Dignity in Guyana”, held today:

As COVID-19 spread accelerates, IHR Emergency Committee urges focus on measures that work

30 Oct

The Emergency Committee on COVID-19 met on 29 October to review the situation and progress made on the temporary recommendations.  They advised that the pandemic still constituted a public health emergency of international concern, and urged a focus on response efforts based on lessons learned and strong science.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus accepted the advice of the committee, stating that “WHO will continue to work in partnership across the world to drive science, solutions and solidarity.”

The committee expressed appreciation for WHO’s leadership and activities throughout the global response, including its critical role in developing evidence-based guidance, providing countries with technical assistance and critical supplies and equipment, communicating clear information and addressing misinformation, and convening the Solidarity Trials and the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.

The committee provided concrete and targeted advice for WHO and countries to focus on in the coming months. It emphasized the importance of evidence-informed, risk-based and coherent measures in relation to international traffic, surveillance and contract tracing efforts, maintaining essential health services including mental health services, and preparing plans for future COVID-19 vaccines. The committee urged countries to avoid politicization of the pandemic response, seen as a major detriment to global efforts. Read the full statement.

As the committee convened for the fifth time, global reported cases had reached 44 million, with over 1.1 million people having lost their lives to COVID-19.


Statement on the fifth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

30 Oct

The fifth meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) took place on Thursday, 29 October 2020 from 12:30 to 16:05 Geneva time (CEST).

Proceedings of the meeting

Members and advisors of the Emergency Committee were convened by videoconference. 

The Director-General welcomed the Committee, highlighted global advances and challenges in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and expressed his appreciation to the Committee for their continued support and advice. 

Representatives of the legal department and the Department of Compliance, Risk Management, and Ethics (CRE) briefed the members on their roles and responsibilities. The Ethics Officer from CRE provided the Members and Advisers with an overview of the WHO Declaration of Interest process. The Members and Advisers were made aware of their individual responsibility to disclose to WHO, in a timely manner, any interests of a personal, professional, financial, intellectual or commercial nature that may give rise to a perceived or direct conflict of interest. They were additionally reminded of their duty to maintain the confidentiality of the meeting discussions and the work of the committee. Each member who was present was surveyed and no conflicts of interest were identified. 

The Secretariat turned the meeting over to the Chair, Professor Didier Houssin. Professor Houssin also welcomed the Committee and reviewed the objectives and agenda of the meeting. 

The WHO Assistant Directors-General for Emergency Response and for Emergency Preparedness and International Health Regulations provided an overview of the current context and an update on the implementation of the 1 August 2020 Temporary Recommendation. WHO continues to assess the global risk level of the COVID-19 pandemic as very high.

The Committee expressed strong appreciation for WHO’s leadership and activities throughout the global response. In particular, the Committee appreciated WHO’s critical role in developing evidence-based guidance and recommendations; providing countries with technical assistance and operational support; communicating clear information and addressing misinformation; and convening the Solidarity Trials and the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. The Committee commended WHO’s sustained efforts to strengthen national, regional, and global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After ensuing discussion, the Committee unanimously agreed that the pandemic still constitutes an extraordinary event, a public health risk to other States through international spread, and continues to require a coordinated international response. As such, the Committee considered the COVID-19 pandemic to remain a public health emergency of international concern and offered advice to the Director-General.

The Director-General determined that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to constitute a PHEIC. He accepted the advice of the Committee to WHO and issued the Committee’s advice to States Parties as Temporary Recommendations under the IHR (2005). 

The Emergency Committee will be reconvened within three months, at the discretion of the Director-General. The Director-General thanked the Committee for its work.

Advice to the WHO Secretariat

Leadership and Coordination 
1. Continue to coordinate global and regional multilateral organizations, partners, and networks and share best practices for responding to the pandemic. 

2. Provide States Parties with a mechanism including templates and processes to report on national progress in implementing the temporary recommendations; collect, analyze, and provide regular updates to the Committee on this progress. 

Evidence-Based Response Strategies
3. Continue to provide evidence-based guidance for COVID-19 readiness and response. This guidance should include sustainable long-term response strategies, mitigation approaches for different levels of transmission, refined indicators for risk management and pandemic response, a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of public health and social measures for COVID-19 response, and lessons learned including from intra-action reviews. 

4. Continue to convene multi-disciplinary experts to agree on consistent language for and to further explain: all potential modes of transmission and virulence of SARS-CoV-2; severity risk factors and epidemiology of COVID-19; and the striking diversity of the pandemic dynamics globally.

5. Continue intersectoral collaborations to understand the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the role/impact of animals, and provide regular updates on international research findings. 

6. Continue to work with partners to refine mathematical models that can inform policy decisions on how best to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Surveillance and Contact Tracing  
7. Continue to work with partners and networks to provide guidance, tools, and trainings to support countries in strengthening their robust public health surveillance, comprehensive contact tracing, and cluster investigation. 

8. Encourage and support countries to understand and report on their epidemiological situation and relevant indicators including through leveraging existing influenza sentinel surveillance systems for COVID-19. 

Risk communications and community engagement
9. Continue to work with partners to counter the ongoing infodemic and provide guidance on community mobilization to support effective public health and social measures.  

Diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines
10. Continue to support development of and equitable access to diagnostics, safe and effective therapeutics and vaccines, through the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator; continue to work with all ACT Accelerator partners to provide countries with additional clarity on the processes to enable equitable and timely access to diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, including in humanitarian settings. 

11. Accelerate support to enhance countries’ readiness for COVID-19 vaccine introduction by providing guidance, tools, and technical assistance for critical areas such as vaccination strategies, vaccine acceptance and demand, training, supply and logistics with a focus on cold chain, and monitoring uptake and vaccine safety. 

Health Measures in Relation to International Traffic
12. Continue to work with partners to update and review evidence-based guidance for international travel consistent with IHR (2005) provisions. This guidance should focus on effective, risk-based, and coherent approaches (including targeted use of diagnostics and quarantine) that consider transmission levels, response capacities in origin and destination countries, and relevant travel-specific considerations.

Essential Health Services
13. Work with partners to support countries in strengthening their essential health services, with a particular focus on mental health, public health prevention and control systems, and other societal impacts, as well as preparing for and responding to concurrent outbreaks, such as seasonal influenza. Special attention should continue to be provided to vulnerable settings. 

Temporary Recommendations to State Parties

Leadership and coordination 
1. Continue to share with WHO best practices, including from intra-action reviews, and apply lessons learned for mitigating resurgence of COVID-19; invest in implementing National Action Plans for sustainable preparedness and response capacities in compliance with the IHR requirements. 

2. Report to WHO on progress in implementing the Temporary Recommendations, particularly major achievements, milestones, and obstacles. This information will empower countries, WHO, partners, and the Committee to continue to make informed decisions as the pandemic evolves.   

Evidence-Based Response Strategies
3. Avoid politicization or complacency with regards to the pandemic response which negatively impact local, national, regional, and global response efforts. National strategies and localized readiness and response activities should be driven by science, data, and experience and should engage and enable all sectors using a whole-of-society approach. 

4. Implement a dynamic risk management approach using appropriate indicators to inform time-limited, evidence-based public health and social measures. 

5. Conduct research and share information on transmission, including role of aerosols; presence and potential impact of SARS-CoV-2 in animal populations; and potential sources of contamination (such as frozen products) to mitigate potential risks through preventative measures and international cooperation.

Surveillance and Contact Tracing 
6. Sustain efforts to strengthen public health surveillance systems and investments in a trained workforce for active case finding, comprehensive contact tracing, and cluster investigations. 

7. Continue timely and consistent reporting to WHO, including through platforms such as GISRS, on all recommended indicators for COVID-19 epidemiology and severity, response measures, and concurrent outbreaks, to enhance global understanding of the pandemic’s evolution. 

Risk Communications and Community Engagement
8. Engage and empower individuals and communities to strengthen confidence in the COVID-19 response and promote sustained adherence to public health and social measures underpinned by the principles of solidarity and human rights; monitor and address rumours and misinformation.   

Diagnostics, Therapeutics, and Vaccines
9. Establish a national multi-disciplinary taskforce, assess progress using the COVID-19 Vaccine Introduction Readiness Assessment Tool (VIRAT), and prepare the National Deployment and Vaccination Plan, which can serve as the holistic operational plan for COVID-19 vaccine introduction. A strong emphasis should be placed on communication with communities to prepare for COVID-19 vaccination.  

Health Measures in Relation to International Traffic
10. Regularly re-consider measures applied to international travel in compliance with Article 43 of the IHR (2005) and continue to provide information and rationales to WHO on measures that significantly interfere with international traffic. Ensure that measures affecting international traffic (including targeted use of diagnostics and quarantine) are risk-based, evidence-based, coherent, proportionate and time limited. 

11. Continue to strengthen capacity at points of entry to manage potential risks of cross-border transmission and to facilitate international contact tracing. 

Essential Health Services
12. Maintain essential health services with sufficient funding, supplies, and human resources; strengthen health systems to cope with mental health impacts of the pandemic, concurrent disease outbreaks, and other emergencies.


Start of 1st WHO infodemic management training

30 Oct

The 1st WHO Infodemic Management Training programme kicks off next week, and participants will come together during 8 sessions that will take place over the course of the next four weeks.The training programme received over 650 applications from 83 countries, and this very competitive selection process resulted in a cohort of 270 trainees. 

The training has been co-sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and RCCE collective service. Technical expertise is being provided by First Draft, a non-profit that works globally to tackle misinformation. 

Organizing the training programme has been a complicated logistical exercise. The number and location of this first cohort means the sessions will be repeated twice per day to allow everyone to join the sessions live to ask questions and to interact with their fellow learners. During the 34 hours of programming, there will be 46 different speakers sharing their expertise with the participants.

The training programme has been driven by a recognition of the harm being caused by false and misleading health information circulating in online spaces, low quality news outlets and in peer to peer discussions. By the end of the training, participants will have a thorough grounding in infodemic management. This includes an understanding that public health professionals need to share accurate, engaging, sharable content as well as using techniques to counter misinformation when it starts to cause harm to communities. 

The course includes practical training on tools for monitoring rumors, fact-checking and verification, as well as learning how to respond effectively and testing interventions to slow down the spread of misinformation. There are also guest speakers from UNICEF, Google and Facebook and most importantly representatives from country based Ministries of Health who will be talking about their current challenges with the infodemic and the lessons they have learned.

At the first welcome event, 188 learners interacted over Zoom sharing experiences and hopes for the upcoming weeks. The session included an information ‘crisis’ simulation, where participants played the role of a public health communications officer in a major North American city and had to make decisions based on a fictional public health incident, where rumors were swirling all over social media. Would they hold a press conference? Or debunk rumors directly on the different social media platforms? Or would they wait for more information? The simulation was designed to highlight the different challenges involved in infodemic management today, and to preview some of the key elements of the training programme.

As one of the participants posted during the simulation: “This feels like a ‘choose your own adventure game.” The training has been designed to be interactive, engaging and practical. By the end of the training, participants who will successfully pass the assessment will join the WHO roster of infodemic managers to be deployed to countries, where they will be thrust into real-life situations that will feel far from an adventure game.

The training team are very excited to work with these experienced professionals from the fields of epidemiology, risk communication, health service delivery/health care workers, digital health, policy making, and others who are responding to the current COVID-19 and overlapping infodemics at country level.