Norway-proposed UN 'coronavirus relief fund' to assist countries with struggling health sectors

Norway-proposed UN 'coronavirus relief fund' to assist countries with struggling health sectors
A UN fund proposed by Norway could soon provide relief for countries with struggling health care sectors, Oslo said.
3 min read
23 March, 2020
Thousands of people have already died of the virus in the region [Getty]
A United Nations fund could soon be set up to assist countries with strugging health care sectors fight the new coronavirus pandemic, Norway said on Monday.

The initiative, which has been welcomed favourably by UN deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed, is expected to be set up quickly, "possibly even this week", Norway's Development Aid Minister Dag-Inge Ulstein said, without specifying the amount of its own contribution.

"We are concerned about the way the virus will affect developing countries which have fragile healthcare systems," the official said.

"International solidarity across borders is more important than ever. That's why it is important for us to contribute financially to such a fund in the UN," he added.

The move comes just days after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday warned "millions" of lives were at stake if the international community did not show solidarity, especially with the world's poorest countries, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 14,925 people worldwide, while over 345,289 infections have been confirmed.

Read also: Qatar announces $150 million aid package to help Gaza fight coronavirus

As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 99,541 have already recovered from the infection.

Such a fund could greatly help places like Gaza, which this week announced its first two cases of the novel coronavirus.

The two who tested positive had been held in quarantine since their return from Pakistan and had not interacted with the wider population, the health ministry said.

More than 2,700 others are in home isolation, most of them after returning from Egypt, authorities have said.

The United Nations has warned that a COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak health system in the coastal strip under Israeli blockade since 2007.

Gaza has only 60 intensive care (ICU) beds for its two million people and not all are operational due to staff shortages, the head of the World Health Organisation's Palestinian office, Gerald Rockenschaub, told AFP earlier this week.

Read also: Fears mount of healthcare crisis in Syria as regime announces first case of novel coronavirus

Wealthier countries in the region have already pumped financial aid to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, but a UN fund could cover more countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Middle East's most impoverished state Yemen, which has not yet announced any cases, is bracing for what could be a catastrophic outbreak.

The five-year conflict has already pushed the country to the brink of famine and left its health sector in tatters.

Sanctions-hit Iran, which has struggled to contain the spread of the virus that has killed more than 1,812 people and infected 23,049, could also find relief from the UN fund.

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