Down to Earth - - Cover Story / Coro­n­avirus - “WE NEED TO AD­DRESS THE UN­KNOWN”


THOUGH MANY ex­perts say the coro­n­avirus out­break is close to a pan­demic,the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) does not be­lieve so. At present,we are in the phase where it’s an epi­demic with mul­ti­ple foci,and we will try to ex­tin­guish the trans­mis­sion in each of th­ese foci. Pre­vi­ous coro­n­aviruses in­clud­ing SARS and MERS didn’t lead to a pan­demic when they first emerged.How­ever,we still do not know much about this virus.That's why WHO is mon­i­tor­ing the evo­lu­tion of this out­break ev­ery minute with a net­work of sci­en­tists,clin­i­cians,dis­ease track­ers, govern­ments,sup­ply chain ex­perts and part­ners from the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor.

In fact,WHO de­clared the new coro­n­avirus COVID-19 a Pub­lic Health Emer­gency of In­ter­na­tional Con­cern (PHEIC) on January 30,2020. This the sixth time a PHEIC has been de­clared—the pre­vi­ous ones were H1N1 in 2009,Po­lio in 2014,Ebola in West Africa in 2014,Zika in 2016,Ebola in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo in 2019. Fol­low­ing the dec­la­ra­tion of a PHEIC,WHO has is­sued tem­po­rary rec­om­men­da­tions.Th­ese mea­sures ad­dress travel,trade,quar­an­tine,screen­ing and treat­ment to make sure coun­tries are pre­pared to deal with this out­break. They can also set global stan­dards of prac­tice in th­ese ar­eas.WHO is also work­ing to­wards re­duc­ing se­condary in­fec­tions amongst close con­tacts and health­care work­ers; pre­vent­ing trans­mis­sion am­pli­fi­ca­tion events and su­per spread­ing events (which hap­pened in the case of SARS); and,pre­vent­ing fur­ther spread.

To re­duce zoonotic trans­mis­sion,we need to identify an­i­mal source(s) and limit ex­po­sure; equip coun­tries to de­tect,isolate and pro­vide health­care for in­fected pa­tients; and, pro­vide op­ti­mised care.We also need to ad­dress the un­known through clin­i­cal sever­ity,treat­ment op­tions, epi­demi­o­logic stud­ies, diagnostic­s, ther­a­peu­tics and vac­cines. As WHO's di­rec­tor-gen­eral said:“The risk of it be­com­ing more wide­spread glob­ally re­mains high.” (The au­thor is spokesper­son of the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion)

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