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Geneva, March 7, 2020
Pointing out that the world was on the verge of reaching 100,000 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on all countries to make containment of the outbreak their highest priority.
"As cases increase, we are continuing to recommend that all countries make containment their highest priority," WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said at a press conference here on Friday.
"We continue to call on countries to find, test, isolate and care for every case, and to trace every contact," he said.
Ghebreyesus said that, in the past 24 hours, 2736 cases of COVID-19 were reported from 47 countries and territories. There is now a total of 98,023 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3380 deaths.
"Slowing down the epidemic saves lives, and it buys time for preparedness and for research and development. Every day we can slow down the epidemic is another day hospitals can prepare themselves for cases.
"Every day we slow down the epidemic is another day governments can prepare their health workers to detect, test, treat and care for patients. Every day we slow down the epidemic is another day closer to having vaccines and therapeutics, which can in turn prevent infections and save lives," he said.
Ghebreyesus said WHO had last month convened a meeting of more than 400 scientists to identify research priorities.
"Hundreds of ideas were discussed and debated, and today we are publishing an R&D roadmap which distills those ideas into a core group of priorities in 9 key areas. These include the natural history of the virus, epidemiology, vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, clinical management, ethical considerations, social sciences and more.
"The R&D roadmap focuses on research that can save lives now, as well as longer-term research priorities for vaccines and therapeutics. It’s vital to coordinate research so that different groups around the world complement each other, so WHO can give better advice, and countries can take evidence-based decisions that save lives," he said
Ghebreyesus said that was the reason WHO had developed a set of core protocols that outline standards for how studies should be done, and to collect critical data so that they can compare apples with apples and pool data from multiple studies.
"France and South Africa have already indicated they will use these protocols for clinical trials, and we encourage other countries to do the same.
"We’re also developing research protocols to assess interventions for disenfranchised communities such as refugees and internally displaced persons. We’re very encouraged by the level of interest around the world in accelerating research as part of the response," he said.
He said WHO had so far received applications for review and approval of 40 diagnostic tests, 20 vaccines are in development and many clinical trials of therapeutics are underway.
"Even as we test therapeutics, we need to ensure that supplies of those medicines are available should they prove effective. WHO has been monitoring the potential risk of a disruption to medicines supplies as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic.
"China, as you know, is a major producer of active pharmaceutical ingredients and the intermediate products that are used to produce medicines in other countries.
"WHO has focused on the most essential medicines that are critical for primary health care and emergencies, including antibiotics, pain killers, and treatments for diabetes, hypertension, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. WHO is working closely with industry associations, regulators and other partners to monitor this risk, and so far we have not identified any imminent specific shortages.
"Many manufacturers either have alternative sources of ingredients, or had stocks to draw on. Manufacturing has now resumed in most places in China, although some challenges remain," he said.
Separately, WHO has developed a list of more than 20 essential medical devices that countries need to manage patients, including ventilators and oxygen supply systems.
Ghebreyesus said access to medical oxygen could be the difference between life and death for some patients, but there is already a shortage in many countries, which could be exacerbated by this epidemic.
"WHO has an existing working group with the Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and PATH, and we are building on that partnership to increase access to oxygen.
"We encourage every country to review WHO’s disease commodity package for COVID-19 to ensure it has the supplies it needs, including protective equipment and medical devices.
"All of this requires the involvement of the private sector to ensure countries can access life-saving products.
"You’ve heard me talk about the market failure for personal protective equipment. You’ve heard me talk about the need for a whole-of-government approach. You’ve heard me talk about what individuals can do to protect themselves and others. We look forward to businesses stepping up to play their part. We need you.
"WHO is working with the World Economic Forum to engage companies around the world, and earlier this week I spoke to more than 200 CEOs about how they can protect their staff and customers, ensure business continuity and contribute to the response.
"As I keep saying, we’re all in this together, and we all have a role to play. Facts not fear. Reason not rumours. Solidarity not stigma," he added.