From Our Bureau    

17TH JUNE 2020

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic situation remained grim globally, with the confirmed cases across the world soaring to 80,61,550 and the death toll touching 4,40,290 in the 216 affected countries and territories, according to the latest update from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, American region continued to be the worst-hit with 38,99,859 confirmed cases and 2,05,555 deaths. Europe came next with 24,52,247 confirmed cases and 1,89,582 deaths. Eastern Mediterranean region reported 8,17,458 confirmed cases and 18,057 deaths.

South-East Asia region’s tally stood at 5,03,034 confirmed cases and 15,498 deaths. Western Pacific region recorded 2,00,586 confirmed cases and 7,239 deaths and African region registered 1,87,625 confirmed cases and 4,346 deaths. WHO Risk Assessment at global level remained very high.

WHO welcomes initial clinical trial results from the United Kingdom that show dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, can be life-saving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19. According to preliminary findings shared with WHO, for patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients who only require oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.

Older people have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders from around the world have expressed their concern, and called for a response that addresses the needs and rights of older people.

Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the WHO Regional Office for the Americas (PAHO), has called on countries to “work together to strengthen the health response within their territories and across frontiers,” in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 among migrant and vulnerable populations in border areas.

PAHO has extended its alliance with Twitter to provide factual, reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Americas. An agreement recently signed with the platform will enable it to continue training public health social media managers and provide advertising credits to PAHO for the dissemination of evidence-based information.

Subject in Focus:

WHO support to the COVID-19 response in Africa

Since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Africa in mid-February, the pace of the outbreak has accelerated, taking 98 days to reach the first 100,000 cases and only 19 days to rise to 200,000 cases.

As of 11 June, more than 200,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 5,600 deaths have been reported from Africa – a nearly 30 percent increase in cases as compared to the previous week.

Many countries have put in place lockdowns and public health measures to promote physical distancing, good hand hygiene and isolating cases and testing and tracing of contacts of people with COVID-19. With the support of WHO and other partners, governments also rapidly scaled up health workforce and laboratory capacities, and set up points-of-entry screening at airports and border crossings.

Over the past week, WHO Regional Office for Africa has supported the rollout of a Partnership to Accelerate Testing in Africa (PACT) to increase testing, tracing and treatment in the region. The initiative aims to train 100,000 health workers, test up to 15 million people per month for next six months and support provision of supportive care to patients.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, WHO has partnered with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide technical support and coordinate the distribution of medical supplies for the COVID-19 response across Africa.

Africa CDC is also an active partner in the diagnostics purchasing consortium convened by WHO to approach markets through a pooled procurement process in order to access and secure testing supplies amidst unprecedented global demand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the consortium, WHO Operations Support and Logistics (OSL) has secured from a number of manufacturers of manual polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and has begun shipping to Africa the following diagnostic supplies: 227,752 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and 104,000 sample collection kits.

An additional 857,100 PCR tests and 780,300 sample collection kits have been prepared and are awaiting shipment.

WHO, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP), which is distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) cargo for the global COVID-19 response, is in the process of shipping to countries across Africa massive volumes of PPE, including: 10.8 million medical masks, 1.3 million N95 respirator masks, 938,157 gowns, 103,544 goggles, 7.5 million examination gloves and 741,334 face shields.

WHO’s pooled procurement process to secure biomedical equipment for clinical care, which has been especially difficult to procure amidst a global shortage, has also yielded results in recent weeks. WHO has procured 2,522 oxygen concentrators and 487 ventilators, for WFP to deliver across the region.

WHO’s OSL unit, with the voluntary support of a technical network of architects and engineers, is also supporting the design of COVID-19 treatment centres in a number of countries in Africa. Working with Ministry of Health and other UN partners, the OSL’s technical HelpDesk has supported the establishment of COVID-19 treatment centres in Senegal, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Sao Tome and Principe, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mauritius and Ghana. Presently, OSL is working with to support a 26-bed facility in Chad, a 30-bed facility in Burkina Faso, and a 500-bed facility in Equatorial Guinea.

At the media briefing today, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus observed “The world has now recorded more than 8 million cases of COVID-19. In the first two months, 85,000 cases were reported. But in the past two months 6 million cases have been reported. There have been more than 435,000 deaths and in the Americas, Africa and South Asia, cases are still rapidly rising.”

“However, there are green shoots of hope, which show that together through global solidarity, humanity can overcome this pandemic. We now have good examples of many countries that have shown how to effectively suppress the virus with a combination of testing, tracing, and quarantining patients and caring for those that get sick,” he pointed out.

“Lab capacity has been dramatically enhanced across the world to boost COVID-19 testing, which is critical for identifying where the virus is and informing government actions. New mega hubs have been established that are now key to the distribution of personal protective equipment, which includes millions of masks, goggles, aprons and gloves; as well as other medical supplies. Tech companies have developed applications that can assist with the critical task of contact tracing,” he added.

“And there has been an enormous effort to accelerate the science around the pandemic. Early on in the outbreak, on 11 February, WHO convened a Research and Innovation Forum on COVID-19, where hundreds of researchers came together from across the world with the aim of quickly developing quality diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

“One of the key priorities identified was for the world to focus on accelerating research around treating patients with COVID-19. Specifically, researchers agreed to investigate existing drugs with potential, including steroids. WHO also developed a core protocol, which has been adapted and used by researchers around the world.

“And yesterday, there was the welcome news of positive initial results from the RECOVERY trial in the United Kingdom. Dexamethasone, a common steroid, has been shown to have a beneficial effect on those patients severely ill with COVID-19. According to the early findings shared with WHO, for patients on oxygen alone the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one fifth. And for patients requiring a ventilator, mortality was reduced by about one third.

“However, dexamethasone was shown to not have a beneficial effect for those with milder disease, who did not need respiratory support. This is very welcome news for those patients with severe illness, these drugs should only be used under close clinical supervision. We need more therapeutics that can be used to tackle the virus, including those with milder symptoms.

“WHO has now started to coordinate a meta-analysis pooling data from several clinical trials to increase our overall understanding of this intervention. And, we will update our clinical guidance to reflect how and when dexamethasone should be used to treat COVID-19. I want to thank the United Kingdom government, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals, researchers, patients and families who have contributed to this scientific breakthrough.

“WHO will continue to work with all partners to develop other therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19, including through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. Over the coming weeks and months, we hope there will be more treatments that improve patient outcomes and save lives.

“While we are searching for COVID-19 treatments we must continue strong efforts to prevent as many infections as possible by finding, isolating, testing and caring for every case; and tracing and quarantining every contact.

“COVID-19 is affecting the whole world but it’s important to remember that for the most vulnerable communities, this is just one of many threats they face. We have consistently stressed the importance of ensuring essential health services continue, including routine vaccination and services for malaria, TB and HIV.

“Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of 20 diseases including elephantiasis, sleeping sickness, leprosy, trachoma and intestinal worms that collectively wreak havoc on the poorest and most marginalized communities. These diseases disfigure, disable and can kill, and they strike hardest in places of poverty and in remote areas where access to quality health services is extremely limited. 

“WHO and partners have developed a new roadmap, which moves away from single disease programmes to integrated approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of neglected tropical diseases, as part of an overall movement toward universal health coverage.

“The NTD roadmap puts greater ownership on national and local governments to drive action. Like with COVID-19, it calls for greater collaboration between governments, academia, civil society and the private sector in order to boost innovation and access to health technologies. I have seen first-hand the courage of people who are living with NTDS, which is why I call on countries not to forget about the most vulnerable.

“Together, we can achieve anything and I am encouraged by progress in tackling the Ebola outbreak in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. If there are no more cases in the next seven days, the Government of DRC will be able to declare the outbreak over. The lessons learned and experience gained by Congolese health workers are now being applied to inform the Ebola outbreak response in the West of the DRC, as well as broader lessons on testing and contact tracing, which are directly transferable for tackling COVID-19,” the WHO Director-General explained. (eom)

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