We must fight COVID-19 with solidarity, tolerance and respect

March 24, 2020

A customer wearing a face mask examines a product in a supermarket in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 23 March 2020. After Ukraine's government ordered the country into lock down on 18 March, international and intercity transport was stopped, and most businesses, apart from food stores and pharmacies, were ordered to close, with people advised to stay at home and work remotely, where possible. Photo by Veronika Melkozerova / UNDP Ukraine

It is in the nature of crises that they come suddenly and often come with little or no warning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed come suddenly and unexpectedly. Who of us thought even a few weeks ago that the world would, country-by-country, suddenly be locking down? Who of us thought that we would soon be cut off from our families and friends, facing an uncertain future and likely deep recession, economic and social hardship?

But as disasters go, the COVID-19 crisis is more like a tsunami than, say an earthquake: Ahead of a tsunami, we might see towering waves on the horizon. Similarly, we can see the number of cases of COVID-19 rising, and through the simple laws of mathematics and statistics predict when a wave of cases of the disease might crash over our hospitals, overwhelming them.

It is frightening to see a disaster coming so fast and having such a devastating impact on humanity. However, we are not helpless: As this disaster is predictable, so we can take measures that will greatly reduce the force of this approaching wave of illness.

As individuals, each of us can make sure we wash our hands frequently, maintain a safe distance from other people, and self-isolate in our homes in order to slow the rate of transmission of the disease. This will flatten the mathematical curve that describes its spread, making sure that the peak of the curve never overtops the capacity of the health sector for rapid response and recovery.

As an organization, UNDP in Ukraine is uniquely placed to help the government and society address the threat of COVID-19. We are working closely with World Health Organization, other UN Agencies and development partners to determine local solutions to overcome the crisis

Since 2015, UNDP has been actively engaged in health governance and has been strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Health for transparent, effective, efficient and corruption-free procurement of medicines and medical devices. The results achieved thus far are impactful and tangible. Due to the economies of scale and the use of Long Term Agreements significant efficiency gains were achieved, which in turned enabled the Ministry of Health to expand the coverage of provision of medicines and    range of treatments available to patients. Now the focus of our operation is to further strengthen national capacity for a resilient health system to respond to COVID-19, as well as to procure diagnostic tests and personal protective equipment for hospital staff.

At the same time, UNDP is strengthening the capacity of Ukraine’s government for inclusive, effective, efficient and multi-sectoral crisis management and targeted and strategic communication. In close collaboration with WHO and UNICEF, we are amplifying WHO guidance and messaging, which are being disseminated through UNDP’s country-wide networks.  Our aim is to reach out to those who are most in need, namely: marginalized and vulnerable populations, elderly, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV, people living in rural areas and in conflict-affected areas, and other disadvantaged people.  

The UNDP-supported 3,400 houseowner associations network in all 24 oblasts of Ukraine and Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Hubs Network, consisting of 15 regional leading CSOs, have been engaged in dissemination of up-to-date and verified information, as well as recommendations related to COVID-19 detection and early prevention among the local population.

Our network of youth workers is preparing an information package on raising awareness on COVID-19 prevention and detention tailored for youth audiences. The package will include region-specific information (lists of hospitals that test and admit infected patients), clear guidelines on the steps to take after returning from the affected countries, and important legal updates related to quarantine. This is especially important, as young people, while still at risk from the disease themselves, are often less affected by it and can unwittingly increase its spread.

COVID-19 is such a threat because, according to the latest studies, up to 80 percent of those infected show only mild or no symptoms. However, they can still spread it to vulnerable groups like the elderly and those with underlying illnesses, who are at much greater risk.

This makes it vital to reduce the rate of transmission of the disease as much as possible, until a vaccine for it can be developed and a significant proportion of the population has gained immunity.

And that is why we must isolate ourselves at home, while practicing physical distancing, good cough and sneeze hygiene, and regular hand washing. We must show consideration for those in society most at risk from COVID-19. These are our own parents and grandparents, but also our elderly and ill friends, neighbours, and strangers.

So we are also advocating for the prevention of discrimination and the promotion of tolerance in COVID-19-related communications in our already functioning joint “Just Like You” communication campaign with the Office of the Ombudsperson. UNDP’s tolerance envoys have been spreading the word about trusted sources of information on COVID-19 and have been calling for social solidarity and non-discrimination.

Never before have UNDP’s guiding values of respect and tolerance for all people, no matter who or where they are, appeared so vital and relevant. COVID-19 discriminates against the elderly and those in ill health. To beat it, we must show zero tolerance for discrimination, beef up our solidarity, empathy, care and consideration for all others, and be willing to accept some self-sacrifice for the good of all.

The COVID-19 pandemic will pass, and how severe it turns out to be depends on how we behave now and how quickly we will prepare for early recovery so that we safeguard progress towards the SDGs.

And as Ukraine and the rest of the world recovers from this pandemic, as it surely will, UNDP will continue its work to ensure that this recovery, both social and economic, is long-term, sustainable and equitable; one that helps the whole of society, and that leaves no one behind.