By Jaya Ramachandran
GETwo important steps have been taken to combat further spread of the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak in China and globally. On the one hand, the international community has launched a US$675 million preparedness and response plan covering the months of February through to April 2020. On the other, the World Health Organization (WHO) is convening a global research and innovation forum at its headquarters in the Swiss city on February 11-12.
“My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted with the virus, even if it were to emerge,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Urgent support is needed to bolster weak health systems to detect, diagnose and care for people with the virus, to prevent further human to human transmission and protect health workers.”
The Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for the coronavirus epidemic lays out activities and resources needed by international health organizations globally, including WHO, to implement priority public health measures in support of countries to prepare and respond to nCoV-2019.
The objectives of the plan are to limit human-to-human transmission of the virus, particularly in countries most vulnerable if they were to face an outbreak; identify, isolate and care for patients early; communicate critical risk and event information; minimize social and economic impact; reduce virus spread from animal sources; and address crucial unknowns.
The plan focuses on: rapidly establishing international coordination and operational support; scaling up country readiness and response operations; and accelerating priority research and innovation.
“The effectiveness of outbreak response depends on the preparedness measures put in place before outbreaks strike,” said Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. “That is why we are seeking resources to safeguard the most vulnerable countries to protect people from the new coronavirus before it arrives on the doorstep.”
The February 11-12 forum will be joined by experts who are expected to attend virtually and in person from all over world, including from China. They will discuss several areas of research, including identifying the source of the coronavirus as well as sharing of biological samples and genetic sequences.
WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said: “Understanding the disease, its reservoirs, transmission and clinical severity and then developing effective counter-measures is critical for the control of the outbreak, to reduce deaths and minimize the economic impact.”
This will also fast-track the development and evaluation of effective diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines, while establishing mechanisms for affordable access to vulnerable populations and facilitating community engagement, Dr. Swaminathan said.