From Our Bureau               

10TH JULY 2020

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic situation remained grim globally, with the confirmed cases across the world soaring to 1,21,02,328 and the death toll reaching 5,51,046 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 62,64,626 confirmed cases and 2,76,370 deaths. Europe came next with 28,68,080 confirmed cases and 2,02,341 deaths. Eastern Mediterranean region reported 12,38,779 confirmed cases and 29,690 deaths.

South-East Asia region’s tally stood at 10,65,093 confirmed cases and 27,382 deaths. African region registered 4,28,051 confirmed cases and 7,733 deaths. Western Pacific region recorded 2,36,958 confirmed cases and 7,517 deaths. WHO Risk Assessment at global level remained very high.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus acknowledged how civil society has played a critical role in responding to this pandemic by highlighting the needs of the most vulnerable, fighting for an equitable response, and holding decision-makers to account, in his address to a webinar on “civil society engagement in COVID-19 response at national and local levels,” organised by WHO’s Health Partnerships department.

The burden of COVID-19 is overwhelming fragile health systems in Africa, although the accelerating trend of increasing cases is not uniformly distributed across the region. WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti emphasized that “if countries continue to strengthen key public health measures such as testing, tracing contacts and isolating cases, we can slow down the spread of the virus to a manageable level.”

WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge urged countries to stand firm and stay focused on what we know works to hold the virus at bay; step in swiftly at the first sign of local surges; and sign up to be part of a new culture of health during the summer months.

At the media briefing, Director-General Dr Tedros said “Today the world recorded 12 million cases of COVID-19. In the last six weeks, cases have more than doubled. Across all walks of life, we are all being tested to the limit. For those in poverty, with little or no access to quality health services, it’s not only COVID-19 that threatens lives and livelihoods.”

“Other diseases like measles, polio and malaria all thrive when immunization is paused and supply chains for medical supplies are interrupted. WHO continues to work with partners to ensure that the poorest and most marginalized are prioritized.  That means restarting routine immunization and ensuring that medical supplies reach health workers across the world.

“There’s a lot of work still to be done. From countries where there is exponential growth, to places that are loosening restrictions and now starting to see cases rise. We need leadership, community participation and collective solidarity. Only aggressive action combined with national unity and global solidarity can turn this pandemic around.

“There are many examples from around the world that have shown that even if the outbreak is very intense, it can still be brought back under control. And some of these examples are Italy, Spain and South Korea, and even in Dharavi – a densely packed area in the megacity of Mumbai – a strong focus on community engagement and the basics of testing, tracing, isolating and treating all those that are sick is key to breaking the chains of transmission and suppressing the virus.

“As we continue to tackle the pandemic, we are also looking into the origins of the virus. Two WHO experts are currently en route to China to meet with fellow scientists and learn about the progress made in understanding the animal reservoir for COVID-19 and how the disease jumped between animals and humans. This will help lay the ground work for the WHO-led international mission into the origins.

“For all the challenges that COVID-19 has caused, it has also shown the way forward for other challenges that threaten humanity. The crisis of growing antimicrobial resistance is a slow motion tsunami, where despite the rise in resistant infections, the research and development of new antibiotics has not caught up. Unless we take quick and sustained action, we risk a doomsday global scenario where common injuries and illnesses return to become major killers.

“The AMR Action Fund aims to tackle this by strengthening and accelerating the research and development of antibiotics through game-changing investments into biotechnology companies around the world.  Whether it’s COVID-19 or AMR, the best shot we have is to work together in national unity and global solidarity.

“Today, WHO is launching the Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco, which aims to help the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users quit during the pandemic. This initiative will help people freely access the resources they need to quit tobacco, like nicotine replacement therapy and access to a digital health worker for advice.

“Smoking kills eight million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive.  Evidence reveals that smokers are more vulnerable than non-smokers to developing a severe case of COVID-19.

“The project is led by WHO, together with the UN Interagency Task Force on Non-communicable Diseases and brings together tech industry, pharmaceutical, and NGO partners like PATH and the Coalition for Access to NCD Medicines and Products. We thank our first manufacturing partners Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, who donated nearly 40,000 nicotine patches.

“We are also pleased to introduce Florence, the world and WHO’s first-ever digital health worker, based on artificial intelligence. Florence dispels myths around COVID-19 and tobacco and helps people develop a personalized plan to quit. 

“Florence is available 24/7 via video stream or text to help people access reliable information. Florence was created with technology developed by San Francisco and New Zealand based company Soul Machines, with support from Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.  

“WHO is in the final stages of adding more partners and encourages pharmaceutical and tech companies to join this initiative, which will help people reduce their risk of COVID-19 and lead healthier lives. We will first launch the initiative in Jordan and then roll it out globally over the coming months,” Dr Tedros pointed out. (eom)

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