COVID-19 Still Constitutes Major Health Danger, Says WHO

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  •  Seek more coordinated response

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Amidst growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19 variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the pandemic still constitutes an extraordinary threat that continues to adversely affect the health of populations around the world.

In a statement issued by its Director General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, after the 10th meeting of the Emergency Committee convened by the WHO under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) on COVID-19 pandemic that took place in Geneva, Switzerland, the world health body said that a more coordinated international response is required to contain the situation.

According to the statement, “The Committee unanimously agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic still constitutes an extraordinary event that continues to adversely affect the health of populations around the world, poses a risk of international spread and interference with international traffic, and requires a coordinated international response.”

It said that the committee advised countries of the world to continue to use evidence-informed public health and social measures, therapeutics, diagnostics and vaccines for COVID-19, and to share response experiences with WHO.

“State parties are advised to regularly adjust their response strategies by monitoring their epidemiological situation, assessing their vulnerabilities including their health system capacity, as well as considering the adherence to and attributable impact of individual and combined PHSM.

“Where isolation and quarantine of large numbers of cases and contacts is potentially disrupting critical infrastructure (including heath care services),” it said.

WHO further said countries may need to modify isolation and quarantine periods, with the introduction of testing, to balance the risks with the continuation of key functions, using a risk-based approach.
The committee praised South Africa for its rapid identification and transparent and rapid sharing of information on the Omicron VOC.

The committee was concerned about the reaction of state parties in implementing blanket travel bans, which are not effective in suppressing international spread (as clearly demonstrated by the Omicron experience), and may discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging VOC.

It noted with concern reports of violence against health workers, public health officials, and expert advisors engaged in the COVID-19 response, as the committee condemns these acts that undermine national and global response efforts.

The committee also expressed deep concern that countries not eligible for the COVAX Facility Advance Market Commitment (AMC) are experiencing challenges affording COVID-19 vaccines.

In addition, the WHO Commitee noted the challenges posed by the high prices of certain therapeutics, the lack of equity in access, and limited data availability on cost-effectiveness of these treatments.

It advised that WHO should continue its work with the pharmaceutical sector to address barriers to access and affordability, by expanding tiered pricing, voluntary licence agreements and other approaches to increase access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic tests for all countries, possibly looking at the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework for guidance.