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The World Health Organisation WHO, on Monday, cautioned that majority of the world population remains susceptible to contracting the coronavirus unless world leaders “act fast in getting a vaccine.”

The WHO director general, Tedous Ghebreyesus, in a virtual briefing in Geneva, said early tests showed that less than 20 per cent, and in some cases less than 10 per cent, may have antibodies to fight the disease.

“Early serology studies are painting a consistent picture: even in the worst-affected regions, the proportion of the population with the tell-tale antibodies is no more than 20 percent, and in most places, less than 10 percent,” he said.

“In other words: the majority of the world’s population remains susceptible to this virus. The risk remains high and we have a long road to travel.”

An antibody is a protective protein produced by the immune system in response to the presence of a foreign substance, called an antigen (such as coronaviruses). Antibodies recognise and latch onto antigens in order to remove them from the body.

In the frantic search for a vaccine to tackle COVID-19, scientists across the world are latching unto the science of antibodies to curb the spread of the virus in humans.

But Mr Ghebreyesus said countries “that move too fast, without putting in place the public health architecture to detect and suppress transmission, run a real risk of handicapping their own recovery.”

Mr Ghebreyesus said “even in the worst-affected regions, the proportion of the population with the tell-tale antibodies is no more than 20 per cent , and in most places, less than 10 per cent.

“In other words: the majority of the world’s population remains susceptible to this virus,” he said.

Many countries in Asia, Europe including Nigeria have continued to lift restrictions which were first introduced in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

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The 73rd session of the Assembly – which is the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is being held virtually over two days – instead of the usual two weeks, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the assembly’s cut-down agenda, country delegations are expected to deliver statements focusing specifically on the COVID-19 pandemic, with other business pushed back to later in the year.

300,000 lives and counting

To date, the WHO has reported more than 4.5 million cases of COVID-19 infections and more than 300,000 lives lost, Mr Ghebreyesus said.

The infection has moved “like a bushfire”, he said. He added that no country has been spared.

“WHO fully understands and supports the desire of countries to get back on their feet and back to work,” he said. Nonetheless, he urged caution.

He said the caution is “precisely because the agency wants the fastest possible global recovery.”

“Countries that move too fast, without putting in place the public health architecture to detect and suppress transmission, run a real risk of handicapping their own recovery.”

Global health risks unwinding

At the same time, the ongoing pandemic risks unwinding “decades of progress against maternal and child mortality, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, noncommunicable diseases, mental health, polio”, among other urgent health threats, he added.

He also asked that special attention be directed to vulnerable groups “like people living in nursing homes, refugee camps, prisons and detention centres.”

“While developed countries can do this by themselves,” he advised that “resources must massively be increased to the developing world.”

Coronavirus factsheet

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