If the world is to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control, nations must carry out the “basic principles” of public health surveillance, a top World Health Organization expert said on Friday.
The call for a return to greater vigilance comes as more countries turn their efforts towards reopening economies battered by the pandemic.
“We seem … to be avoiding the uncomfortable reality that we need to get back to public health surveillance,” Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said during a media briefing. “We need to go back to where we should have been months ago – finding cases, tracking cases, testing cases, isolating people who are tested positive, doing quarantine for contacts.”
All nations should focus on the fundamentals of the global coronavirus fight: scouting potential new infections, hunting them down, confirming them and then separating those afflicted, to save others from the disease, said Ryan.
The WHO is facing a $1.3bn funding deficit for its effort to tackle COVID-19, after United States President Donald Trump last month told his administration to temporarily halt funding to the United Nations health agency. US officials are demanding a WHO overhaul, saying it mishandled the coronavirus crisis.
WHO’s Ryan on Friday urged nations to stick together as the disease spreads from country to country, sometimes at different rates and with wide swings in death tolls. Ryan highlighted how Russia appears to be dealing with a “delayed epidemic” as a spike in confirmed new infections in recent days has catapulted it past France and Germany in the total number of cases.
“Through solidarity we will win the fight, and nobody is safe until everybody is safe”, Ryan said.
“There is a path out, but we must remain ever vigilant, and we may have to have a significant alteration of our lifestyles until we get to a point where we have an effective vaccine.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also drew on the theme of international solidarity as he referred to Friday’s anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, which was declared fully beaten 40 years ago.
“Its eradication stands as the greatest public health triumph in history,” he said.
“As the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity’s victory over smallpox is a reminder of what is possible when nations come together to fight a common health threat.”
There has been a slew of news in recent days about coronavirus vaccine candidates, including announcements that tests in humans have begun with some trials expected by summer, though experts have warned a successful preventative treatment may still be many months away.
“As you know, WHO is now working with many partners to accelerate the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, which will be an essential tool for controlling transmission of the virus,” said Tedros.
“But although a vaccine was crucial for ending smallpox, it was not enough on its own. After all, the vaccine was first developed by Edward Jenner in 1796. It took another 184 years for smallpox to be eradicated.
“The decisive factor in the victory over smallpox was global solidarity.”