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UN Declares 'International Day of Epidemic Preparedness' to Highlight Health Systems Concerns

UN Declares 'International Day of Epidemic Preparedness' to Highlight Health Systems Concerns
A worker from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, clad in protective gear due to the coronavirus pandemic, delivers aid to families in Gaza City on Sept. 15, 2020. MOHAMMED ABED / AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed Dec. 27 the "International Day of Epidemic Preparedness." A year into the global battle against the coronavirus, the international body hopes the designation will help strengthen global measures against and preparedness for future health crises.

As he introduced the resolution, Vietnam's representative Dang Dinh Quy warned that COVID-19 is not the first epidemic that the world has faced in recent years, nor will it be the last, a UN statement detailed.

"The pandemic caught us off guard, but it also has served as a wake‑up call for improving our preparedness," he said, suggesting the observation of an International Day on Epidemic Preparedness to get closer to that goal, reported Reuters.

Since the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China in Dec. 2019, the global death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 1.5 million, Andalou Agency reported.

The adopted resolution expressed "grave concern" about the devastating impacts of major infectious diseases and epidemics on human lives and listed COVID-19 as the prime example, WWLP reported. Epidemics wreak havoc on long-term social and economic development, and health crises threaten delicate health systems, global supply chains, and the livelihoods of many, the resolution said.

President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, underscored the importance of universal health coverage and said that it was time to match ambition with action and to improve health and well-being for all, the UN statement detailed. At least half of the world's population lacks full coverage for essential health services and those hit hardest during the COVID‑19 pandemic include the elderly, the poor, the displaced and others who do not have full health coverage, he added. Bozkir emphasized the need to ensure fair and equitable access to a COVID‑19 vaccine and for all countries to expand their investments in health care.

"Given that the General Assembly has previously declared international days devoted to chess, yoga and toilets, it only seems fair that epidemics should have their day too," International Crisis Group's UN director Richard Gowan told Reuters.

The symbolic declaration could be an attempt by the General Assembly to even the playing field for "smaller and poorer" nation-states that worry that they won't be represented in global decisions about the coronavirus vaccine or recovery, he told the news report.

In adopting the resolution by consensus, the international governing body expressed "deep concern" that without international attention, "future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity," ABC News reported. The UN also requested that the World Health Organization facilitate the observance of the day to ensure that proper, science-based information and best practices for disease prevention and response are transmitted globally, the report said.

The representative of the United States said that while her delegation joined the consensus, the country disassociates itself from references to the World Health Organization in the text, the UN statement said. The U.S. has previously refused to join global coronavirus vaccine efforts.

After his win in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden emphasized how his administration will depart from President Trump's by tackling the pandemic and the climate crisis with a proactive, science-based approach.

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