Geneva, 21 Apr (Kanaga Raja) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning about the novel coronavirus (and the disease it causes in humans) from day one, and nothing had been hidden from the United States, the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asserted on Monday.
At a virtual media briefing on Monday, Dr Tedros said: “We have been warning from day one that this is a devil that everyone should fight.”
Last week, US President Donald Trump had announced that he was halting funding to the global health body pending a review, alleging that the WHO had severely mismanaged and covered up the spread of the coronavirus.
At the virtual media briefing on Monday, Dr Tedros pointed to the presence of several officials from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) working on the response to the COVID-19 disease at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
“Having CDC staff (at WHO) means there is nothing hidden from the US, from day one … these are Americans working with us. It just comes naturally and they tell what they are doing,” said Dr Tedros.
“WHO is open. We don’t hide anything. Not only for CDC, them sending messages, or others; we want all countries to get the same message immediately because that helps countries to prepare well and to prepare quickly,” he added.
Asked about an email from Taiwan on 31 December 2019 concerning reports of atypical pneumonia in Wuhan, China, Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said: “Clusters of atypical pneumonia are not uncommon. There are millions of cases of atypical pneumonia around the world in any given year …”
“So, from the perspective of the request we received from Taiwan, it was in line with other information we had received from other sources.”
“We would obviously like to thank our colleagues in Taiwan for having shared an interesting report for which we were receiving similar reports from other sources. At no point in the process of communication – and this email that has been received [from Taiwan] – was there any reference to human-to-human transmission or any other issue,” said Dr Ryan.
“It was purely requesting relevant information and thanking us in advance for our attention to the matter,” he added.
Dr Tedros said that “one thing that has to be clear is that the first email was not from Taiwan. Many other countries were already asking for clarification. The first report came from Wuhan, from China itself. So, Taiwan was only asking for clarification.”
“And as some people were claiming, Taiwan didn’t report any human-to-human transmission. This has to be clear. They were asking for clarification like any other entity who wanted clarification. So we didn’t receive the existence of human-to-human transmission from Taiwan on December 31,” he said.
Meanwhile, in his opening remarks at the virtual media briefing on Monday, Dr Tedros said that WHO’s commitment is to science, solutions and solidarity.
“Our commitment is to supporting all countries to save lives. That’s it, that’s our intention. That’s what we’re for: saving lives.
“We’ve spoken previously about the factors countries must consider as they plan to start lifting so-called lockdown restrictions. We want to re-emphasize that easing restrictions is not the end of the epidemic in any country.”
Ending the epidemic will require a sustained effort on the part of individuals, communities and governments to continue suppressing and controlling this deadly virus. So-called lockdowns can help to take the heat out of a country’s epidemic, but they cannot end it alone, Dr Tedros emphasized.
Countries must now ensure they can detect, test, isolate and care for every case, and trace every contact.
The Director-General welcomed the accelerated development and validation of tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies, “which are helping us to understand the extent of infection in the population.”
WHO is providing technical, scientific and financial support for the rollout of sero-epidemiologic surveys across the world.
Early data from some of these studies suggest that a relatively small percentage of the population may have been infected, even in heavily affected areas – not more than 2 to 3 percent.
While antibody tests are important for knowing who has been infected, tests that find the virus are a core tool for active case finding, diagnosis, isolation and treatment, he said.
One of WHO’s priorities is to work with partners to increase the production and equitable distribution of diagnostics to the countries that need them most.
To achieve that, said Dr Tedros, WHO has worked with FIND, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative, to identify and validate five tests that can be manufactured in large quantities.
“Working together with the Global Fund, UNICEF and Unitaid, we have now placed orders for 30 million tests over the next four months.”
“The first shipments of these tests will begin next week, through the United Nations Supply Chain we have established with the World Food Programme and other partners,” he added.
Solidarity flights continue to ship lifesaving medical supplies across Africa to protect health workers, who are on the frontlines in the effort to save lives and slow the pandemic.
Over the past week, WHO has been working closely with the World Food Programme to deliver masks, goggles, test kits, face shields and other medical equipment to 40 countries.
This is part of the overarching drive to keep supply chains moving and ensure key supplies reach 120 priority countries.
“Through April and May we intend to ship almost 180 million surgical masks, 54 million N95 masks and more than 3 million protective goggles to countries that need them most,” said Dr Tedros.
“We are also continuing to lead research and development efforts. So far, more than 100 countries have joined the Solidarity Trial to evaluate therapeutics for COVID-19, and 1,200 patients have been randomized from the first 5 countries.”
“This week, we expect that more than 600 hospitals will be ready to start enrolling patients. The faster we recruit patients, the faster we will get results,” he said.
[While the US and some others are blaming the WHO DG for excluding Taiwan from WHO membership, observers point out that this is a decision of the World Health Assembly, and the secretariat has no say in such matters. SUNS]