Today, is the second World Health Day in the shadow of the devastating spread of the COVID-19 virus, leaving in its wake untold death, suffering and economic hardship across the globe. Refugees and displaced persons, including Palestine refugees, are among the populations hit hardest during this devastating crisis. For the 5.7 million Palestine refugees UNRWA serves, this pandemic has added another tragic dimension on what is already seven decades of displacements, dispossessions and violence for so many among them.
As of the first week of March 2021, UNRWA had reported more than 50,500 cumulative COVID-19 confirmed cases among Palestine refugees. More than 80 per cent of them were reported from the West Bank and Gaza. A worrying spike in numbers in the last few weeks and reports that hospitals beds are at full capacity are a serious reason for concern for one of the most vulnerable communities in this volatile region.
While Palestine refugees have gratefully been included in the national immunization plans of all host authorities where UNRWA operates, provision of this vaccine against COVID-19 to these countries is far from sufficient to ensure equitable access. It is our joint responsibility to ensure that every single person be vaccinated. It is the only safe and reliable path out of this unprecedented global health and economic crisis.
In line with the theme of this year’s World Health Day “Building a fairer, healthier world”, I join my voice to call on countries to for implement a fair distribution of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. This deadly pandemic knows no borders and does not differentiate between rich and poor, or refugee and non-refugee.
I would also like to thank host governments in the region for including Palestine refugees among those eligible for vaccination. We also continue to owe a great debt of thanks to the UNRWA employees who serve on the front lines, providing health care, sanitation, education social services and protection. Most recently they have started supporting host authority in administering the vaccines as they become available in UNRWA health centres.
World Health Day serves as an opportunity to celebrate global health advancements and shine a light on current shortfalls. I am proud to serve as Commissioner-General of an organization which has pioneered health standards for the past 70 years in the Middle East, providing universal primary health care for all Palestine refugees, and which continues to innovate for improved health outcomes, already building a fairer and healthier world for the refugees it serves.