A senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official, Michael Ryan, has called for comprehensive, data-driven COVID-19 public health strategies, and not a politically-driven decision-making process, as schools reopen.
Mr Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said this while responding to questions from reporters at the regular WHO news briefing in Geneva.
He said: “we can’t play Whack-a-mole. We need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.”
The senior official said that the topic of schools reopening had become a “political football”, which was not fair on children.
“Decisions must be made on data, and an understanding of the risks. There needs to be a sustained commitment on suppressing the virus. If we can suppress it, then, schools can open safely.”
Also, responding to a question on the United States Government’s decision to begin formal withdrawal from the WHO, Ryan said that the UN health agency was focused on “controlling the pandemic, reducing mortality and suppressing transmission.”
He said the WHO has been dealing with many other situations, including health crises in Syria and Yemen, and Ebola and plague outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In spite of the US withdrawal, Mr Ryan expressed hope that the Organisation would be able to continue to collaborate with US-based colleagues over the coming years.
Four situations playing out across the world
In his remarks, Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said 230,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO as at July 12, and almost 80 per cent of those cases were reported from just 10 countries, and 50 per cent came from just two countries.
“Although, the number of daily deaths remains relatively stable, there is a lot to be concerned about.
“All countries are at risk of the virus, as you know, but not all countries have been affected in the same way.
“There are roughly four situations playing out across the world at the moment,’’ he said.
Mr Ghebreyesus said the first situation was countries that were alert and aware – they prepared and responded rapidly and effectively to the first cases. As a result, they have so far avoided large outbreaks.
“Several countries in the Mekong region, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Africa fit into that category.
“Leaders of those countries took command of the emergency and communicated effectively with their populations about the measures that had to be taken.
“They pursued a comprehensive strategy to find, isolate, test and care for cases, and to trace and quarantine contacts, and were able to suppress the virus.’’
The director general said the second situation was countries in which there was a major outbreak that was brought under control through a combination of strong leadership and populations adhering to key public health measures.
“Many countries in Europe and elsewhere have demonstrated that it is possible to bring large outbreaks under control.
“In both of these first two situations, where countries have effectively suppressed the virus, leaders are opening up their societies on a data-driven way.
“Leaders have opened to data driven step-by-step basis, with a comprehensive public health approach, backed by a strong health workforce and community buy-in.
“The third situation we’re seeing is countries that overcame the first peak of the outbreak, but having eased restrictions, are now struggling with new peaks and accelerating cases.
“In several countries across the world, we are now seeing dangerous increases in cases, and hospital wards filling up again,’’ he said.
In addition, he said it would appear that many countries were losing gains made as proven measures to reduce risk are not implemented or followed.
“The fourth situation is those countries that are in the intense transmission phase of their outbreak.
“We’re seeing this across the Americas, South Asia, and several countries in Africa.
“The epicentre of the virus remains in the Americas, where more than 50 per cent of the world’s cases have been recorded.
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“But we know from the first two situations that it’s never too late to bring the virus under control, even if there’s been explosive transmission.
“In some cities and regions where transmission is intense, severe restrictions have been reinstated to bring the outbreak under control,’’ the director-general said.
According to him, WHO is committed to working with all countries and all people to suppress transmission, reduce mortality, support communities to protect themselves and others, and support strong government leadership and coordination.