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Ted Chaiban, UNICEF MENA Regional Director's speech to WHO EMRO Regional Committee

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Thank you for the opportunity to be with you all today.

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on countries in the Region and particularly its most vulnerable – children and women.

With information fatigue coupled especially with decreasing risk perceptions in countries there is a major need for COVID-19 prevention efforts to be adjusted and accelerated for sustained practice of risk-reduction behaviours.

Simultaneously, several countries are witnessing significant reductions in intake of health and social services.

An impressive response has been mounted by countries in the region and I want to acknowledge the leadership Your Excellencies, Ministers of Health, have shown in your respective countries adopting an RCCE approach to promote COVID-19 prevention as you continue to seek ways to ensure continuity of health and nutrition services according to your country’s context and the needs of the community.

UNICEF will continue to support on-ground outreach and community engagement efforts particularly at the sub-national level as well as mobilization of local leaders, networks and key influencers.

We see recovery in immunization services and utilization of primary health care services in some countries. I reiterate UNICEF’s support to ensure that this is sustained and that mothers and children are able to access other essential services such as Antenatal Care, safe deliveries and treatment for severe acute malnutrition among children while ensuring that frontline health workers are supported through capacity building for Infection Prevention and Control and availability of Personal Protective Equipment.

In this regard, the strength and trust in immunization and Primary Health Care (PHC) services will be key as WHO and UNICEF work together on the COVAX facility to ensure timely deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. We will again need to work together on community engagement so that the vaccine is accepted and shore up the cold chain.

Strengthening PHC resilience and its capacity to deliver front line response including under COVID, we will alleviate the burden on tertiary health care, and strengthen the national health systems’ capacity in continuing to provide health care for the needy and respond to COVID.

Even as we come together on the response to COVID pandemic let us not forget that the region continues to be at risk of polio with new outbreaks of vaccine-derived poliovirus in Sudan and Yemen. WHO and UNICEF are fully committed and engaged in the battle to rid the world of this debilitating disease and immediate immunization response is required to stop circulation of virus in both countries. UNICEF has brought in vaccines to support the response. It is important that access is provided to vaccination teams to vaccinate all children living in outbreak zones.

Together, we will be able to protect our communities and frontline PHC workers from COVID and restore communities’ trust in the public health system so that families can seek services with full assurance of safety and quality.

Together, we can support tens of thousands of children to survive and be healthy across our region.

Media Contacts Juliette Touma Regional Chief of Communications UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office Tel: 00962798674628