UNDP Resident Representative: The Government of Azerbaijan has made timely efforts to contain and address immediate challenges of the pandemic

Baku, June 19, AZERTAC 

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) makes its contribution to fight against coronavirus in Azerbaijan. In his online interview with AZERTAC, UNDP Resident Representative Alessandro Fracassetti highlighted measures in response to COVID-19 and other social projects implemented by the Organization in Azerbaijan. AZERTAC presents the interview:

-What is UNDP doing to support Azerbaijan in the fight against coronavirus? How do you assess the current measures taken to combat the pandemic in Azerbaijan?

-UNDP has been working closely with the government of Azerbaijan and the United Nations family to address the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have continued operating at full capacity in teleworking modality throughout the pandemic and have rapidly repurposed our operations and projects to support national efforts to combat the virus and mitigate the impacts especially in the areas of healthcare, education and support for the most vulnerable in society.

The Government of Azerbaijan has made timely efforts to contain and address the immediate challenges of the pandemic and is spearheading an effective response by increasing social benefits for vulnerable groups.

We have also been working closely with the government to measure the impact of COVID-19 (on a number of key sectors) and to ensure that plans in response to the pandemic take into account the needs of the most vulnerable.

As an example, we are supporting our longstanding partner the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the labour and employment market.

At the same time, we have been providing assistance to the Ministry to ensure the successful implementation of the self-employment programme by moving all training to online platforms and enable up to 500 people with disabilities to start their own business and become financially independent.

This online platform will also provide opportunities for more than 12,000 people to be enrolled into a nationwide self-employment programme run by the Government of Azerbaijan since 2016.

-The United Nations, in cooperation with the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan, is implementing various digital projects to take urgent and effective actions against COVID-19. Since the first day of the pandemic, the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies, UNDP and the SUP.VC Acceleration Center organised a Global Virtual Hackathon to bring together technological solutions to combat the pandemic. Are you satisfied with the results of this initiative?

-Yes. UNDP partnered with the Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies and the SUP.VC Accelerator to organize Azerbaijan’s first ever global virtual hackathon.

We invited developers, innovators, companies, NGOs and active community members across the world to offer tech ideas and solutions to help improve people’s lives during the pandemic.

We managed to bring together over 600 applicants from over 40 countries and it was amazing to see them working together as one for 48 hours, across multiple locations and time zones, developing ideas to help in the fight against COVID-19.

I was also particularly glad that one of the top three prizes was awarded to a team from Azerbaijan – for an idea to help support SMEs through a voucher scheme allowing people to buy goods and services in advance at a discount. I hope they will bring it to life soon.

This is a great recognition that Azerbaijan’s youth has much talent and creativity to offer.

Fighting COVID-19 requires and will require out-of-the box ideas and solutions, and I am glad that Azerbaijan was among the first countries in the region to harness the potential of digital solutions.

We are also supporting the Ministry in enhancing internet capacity and digital connectivity.

-As part of the support of the United Nations Development Programme to the government of Azerbaijan, and in cooperation with Ezgil Medical Technologies, a new mobile app has been launched to help medical personnel. Can you please tell us more about UNDP’s efforts to support e-healthcare in Azerbaijan?

-This new mobile app for medical professionals is one of a series of digital tools that we helped develop together with the Ministry of Health’s Public Health and Reforms Center.

Early on in the crisis, we both recognized the need to rapidly deploy innovative digital solutions to help healthcare professionals cope better with the pandemic.

Our primary focus has been on solutions aimed at immediately improving e-healthcare and electronic resources for medical professionals to advance knowledge in the field of epidemiology and public health.

For example, one of our first joint interventions was the development of a coronavirus self-checker bot to help inform people what to do if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19. The bot has helped the health authorities answer more queries online, freeing up resources to enable medical professionals to look after patients.

We are also planning to deploy an e-course platform and an app to support doctors and nurses with latest treatment protocols.

What’s important to emphasize here is that the technology acquired and the IT skills gained developing these digital solutions will be used for further expansion of e-healthcare in the country and serve as a blueprint for the future of public health.

At the same time, we also partnered with develop a bot to answer questions from the public about COVID-19, and gives prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day.

It can cover up to 1 million users at the same time and it is available to all Azerbaijani speaking citizens worldwide.

To date, the bot has had over 150,000 interactions and the most frequent questions are about statistics and number of cases.

The bot is a very good tool to fight misinformation, which threatens national pandemic responses worldwide and puts lives and livelihoods at risk.

These solutions are not only helping expand the digital capacity of Azerbaijan’s healthcare system in response to the ongoing pandemic but can be further scaled up to support and improve the system in the post COVID-19 era.

-You have also been focusing on environmental protection. What are some of the most recent initiatives that you have been working on?

-For over 20 years, UNDP has been working closely with the government and national partners, primarily the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to adopt prudent climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, to promote energy efficiency, and prepare for extreme weather events that climate change brings.

We are supporting the Government of Azerbaijan in ensuring the protection of this country’s valuable biodiversity and demonstrating the benefits of investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

We are supporting Azerbaijan in its actions to tackle Climate Change. We welcome the recent

re-establishment of the State Commission on Climate Change under the Deputy Prime Minister and are ready to support the government’s efforts in enhancing its CO2 emissions monitoring system.

UNDP has also been working with smallholder farmers. Implemented together with the Ministry of Agriculture, we have an ongoing project on agro-biodiversity that teaches farmers about sustainable agriculture. And we partner with the Genetic Resources Institute of Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences to revive and preserve a range of native species of wheat, vegetables and crops.

Azerbaijan has made some important steps in recent years to protect its environment. But there’s a need for support from all citizens to continue building a sustainable legacy for future generations.

This is why we recently launched two interesting initiatives. We joined forces with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the EU to launch Ozun Yarat to encourage more people in Azerbaijan to ‘upcycle’ products they would normally throw away. Upcycling is increasingly popular throughout the world and we hope that the Ozun Yarat platform will help to boost this trend in Azerbaijan, inspiring a flood of innovative solutions for making the best use of old products and household waste.

We also just launched Azerbaijan’s first water-themed hackathon calling on all citizens to come up with tech solutions to water challenges and help raise awareness of the vital importance of water.

The need to protect the environment lies at the heart of all decision-making – including personal decisions. By changing our behaviour – and our consumption habits above all – we can all be healthier, safer and more prosperous.

-Worldwide, women and youth have been affected the most by the pandemic. How is UNDP helping to ensure support to the most vulnerable communities in Azerbaijan?

-We partnered with the nine Women Resource Centers that we helped establish country wide together with the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs to help organise professional online psychotherapy sessions for women in rural areas. This initiative addresses an urgent need for support at a time when women are at a significantly higher risk of domestic violence due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the effects of social isolation and economic stress.

Also, women from some of the remotest parts of the country have regularly been participating in our online business development trainings over recent months, including courses covering the basis of finance, marketing and sales. Successful candidates have already received all the necessary equipment to start their own businesses.

In the area of education, UNDP helped introduce e-education for people with disabilities, students and farmers, with courses available through TV broadcasts, the Internet and WhatsApp.

For example, in the area of vocational education, together with the European Union and State Agency for Vocational Education we helped to produce a series of TV and online classes to help ensure that VET students don’t miss out on their lessons during COVID-19.

We home-delivered art materials to all students enrolled in our inclusive traditional arts programme to make sure that they continue to create and make progress from home, while also interacting with their teachers and friends online.

And we introduced e-trainings for farmers on best ways to plant and fertilize crops, and provided them with protective equipment to ensure they stay safe in times of COVID-19.

UNDP remains committed to continue helping the people of Azerbaijan throughout this pandemic and beyond. We are stronger together and we must leave no one behind.

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