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Geneva, February 13, 2020
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has given a new for the novel coronavirus disease --- COVID-19.
"Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease," WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus told journalists here on Tuesday.
"Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks," he explained.
Dr Ghebreyesus recalled that WHO had already engaged its network of country representatives as well as the United Nations resident coordinators in countries, to brief them on the outbreak and inform them about the steps they can take.
He said he had also briefed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and they had agreed to leverage the power of the entire UN system in the response.
"Today we have also activated a UN Crisis Management Team, to be led by my general, Dr Mike Ryan. This will help WHO focus on the health response while the other agencies can bring their expertise to bear on the wider social, economic and developmental implications of the outbreak so we are all working to our strengths," he said.
On Wednesday, leading health experts from around the world began a meeting at the WHO headquarters here to assess the current level of knowledge about the new COVID-19 disease, identify gaps and work together to accelerate and fund priority research needed to help stop this outbreak and prepare for any future outbreaks.
The two-day forum was convened in line with the WHO R&D Blueprint – a strategy for developing drugs and vaccines before epidemics, and accelerating research and development while they are occurring.
“This outbreak is a test of solidarity -- political, financial and scientific. We need to come together to fight a common enemy that does not respect borders, ensure that we have the resources necessary to bring this outbreak to an end and bring our best science to the forefront to find shared answers to shared problems. Research is an integral part of the outbreak response,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus. “I appreciate the positive response of the research community to join us at short notice and come up with concrete plans and commitment to work together.”
The meeting, hosted in collaboration with GloPID-R (the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness) brought together major research funders and over 300 scientists and researchers from a large variety of disciplines. They discussed all aspects of the outbreak and ways to control it including:
the natural history of the virus, its transmission and diagnosis;
animal and environmental research on the origin of the virus, including management measures at the human-animal interface;
clinical characterization and management of disease caused by the virus;
infection prevention and control, including best ways to protect health care workers;
research and development for candidate therapeutics and vaccines;
ethical considerations for research;
and integration of social sciences into the outbreak response.
“This meeting allowed us to identify the urgent priorities for research. As a group of funders we will continue to mobilize, coordinate and align our funding to enable the research needed to tackle this crisis and stop the outbreak, in partnership with WHO,” said Professor Yazdan Yazdanpanah, chair of GloPID-R. “Equitable access – making sure we share data and reach those most in need, in particular those in lower and middle-income countries, is fundamental to this work which must be guided by ethical considerations at all times.”
During the meeting, the more than 300 scientists and researchers participating both in person and virtually agreed on a set of global research priorities. They also outlined mechanisms for continuing scientific interactions and collaborations beyond the meeting which will be coordinated and facilitated by WHO. They worked with research funders to determine how necessary resources can be mobilized so that critical research can start immediately.
The deliberations will form the basis of a research and innovation roadmap charting all the research needed and this will be used by researchers and funders to accelerate the research response.
On Tuesday, Dr Ghebreyesus had said that the first vaccine against the disease could be ready in 18 months. "So we have to do everything today using the available weapons to fight this virus, while preparing for the long-term," he pointed out.
"We’ve sent supplies to countries to diagnose and treat patients and protect health workers. We’ve advised countries on how to prevent the spread of disease and care for those who are sick. We’re strengthening lab capacity all over the world. We’re training thousands of health workers.
"And we’re keeping the public informed about what everyone can do to protect their own health and that of others.
"It’s when each and every individual becomes part of the containment strategy that we can succeed. That’s why reaching out to the public directly and telling them the precautions they should take.
"It’s also important to remember that while we need investment in research and development, we also need investment in stopping this outbreak now.
"Last week, WHO issued a call for $675 million, which is what the world needs to support preparedness and response operations in countries. We thank those countries that have contributed so far, and we call on all those who haven’t to contribute urgently. There are many positive signals in terms of funding, and we hope that all these signals will materialize," he said.
"If we invest now in rational and evidence-based interventions, we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak," Dr Ghebreyesus said.