WHO, IMF warn against ‘false dilemma’ in COVID-19 fight
WHO Director-General, Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have asserted that there can be no trade-off between saving lives and saving livelihoods in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The bodies made the pronouncement in a co-authored opinion piece by the WHO Director-General, Adhanom Ghebreyesus and IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva.
As the world responds to COVID-19, country after country is faced with the need to contain the spread of the virus at the cost of bringing its society and economy to a standstill, the bodies said.
"At face value, there is a trade-off to make: either save lives or save livelihoods. This is a false dilemma - getting the virus under control is, if anything, a prerequisite to saving livelihoods," the leaders noted in the opinion piece.
More than one million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, including more than 50,000 deaths.
WHO Director-General said the spread of the virus is more than a health crisis.
“We are all aware of the profound social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The restrictions many countries have put in place to protect health are taking a heavy toll on the income of individuals and families, and the economies of communities and nations,” he stated during a press conference last Friday.
Noting that all nations are in a shared struggle to protect both lives and livelihoods, Ghebreyesus said countries can ease the burden on their populations through social welfare programmes to ensure people have food and other life essentials in the short term.
Debt relief is essential to enable countries to take care of their people and avoid economic collapse Ghebreyesus said, noting that this is an area of cooperation among WHO, the IMF and the World Bank.
Ghebreyesus also cautioned against lifting restrictions too quickly, as “the virus could resurge and the economic impact could be even more severe and prolonged."
“The best way for countries to end restrictions and ease their economic effects is to attack the virus, with the aggressive and comprehensive package of measures that we have spoken about many times before: find, test, isolate and treat every case, and trace every contact,” Ghebreyesus said.
The director general stated that financing the health response is therefore “an essential investment not just in saving lives, but in the longer-term social and economic recovery.”
He also asked for user fees and other barriers to care to be removed at this time.
WHO is also focusing attention on women who may be subject to increased domestic violence under conditions of social distancing.
“Women in abusive relationships are more likely to be exposed to violence, as are their children, as family members spend more time in close contact, and families cope with additional stress and potential economic or job losses. Women may have less contact with family and friends who may provide support and protection from violence,” it was noted.
WHO therefore called on countries to include services for addressing domestic violence as an essential service that must continue during the COVID-19 response.