The World Health Organisation, WHO, says the global reported cases of COVID-19 have increased by nearly 30 per cent over the past two weeks.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said this on Wednesday during an online COVID-19 media briefing.
Ghebreyesus said that four out of six of the WHO sub-regions saw cases increasing in the last week.
“In Europe and America, BA.4 and BA.5 are driving waves.
“In countries like India, a new sub lineage of BA.2.75 has also been detected, which we’re following,’’ he said.
According to him, compounding the challenge are a number of factors.
Ghebreyesus said the first was that testing had reduced dramatically in many countries.
He said it had obscured the true picture of an evolving virus and the real burden of COVID-19 disease globally.
The director said it also meant that treatments were not given early enough to prevent serious illness and or death.
“Second, new treatments, especially promising new oral antivirals, are still not reaching low and low-middle income countries, depriving whole populations that need them.
“Third, as the virus evolves, vaccines protection while still really effective at preventing serious disease and death does wane.
“Decreasing immunity underscores the importance of boosters, especially for the most at-risk.
“Fourth, each wave of the virus leaves more people with long-COVID or post-COVID condition,’’ he said.
According to Ghebreyesus, it obviously impacts individuals and their families but it also puts an extra burden on health systems, the wider economy and society-at-large.
He said the challenges required action at a global, national and local level.
He said that governments, scientists, manufacturers, WHO and citizens themselves all had their part to play
According to him, essential steps to take included vaccination and boosting those at most risk.
Ghebreyesus said such included older people, people with chronic illnesses, the immunocompromised and health workers and then build up the wall of immunity throughout the population.
He said the second was to make new oral antivirals and other treatments available to all.
The director said that working with Global Fund and UNICEF, WHO developed an allocation mechanism to support countries as antivirals become available.
“So far, 20 countries have accepted allocations of Molnupiravir, which has moved into distribution.
“For Nirmatrelvir-Ritonavir, – or Paxlovid – 43 countries have expressed interest.
“However, our organisations are still trying to finalise with Pfizer the appropriate terms and conditions for low- and middle-income countries,’’ he said
According to him, this is delaying access and some countries may choose to wait for a generic version of the antiviral, probably available only early 2023 and this will cost lives.
“I call on Pfizer to work closely with health agencies and countries to ensure its new oral antiviral is available quickly and effectively,’’ he said.
Ghebreyesus said the third was especially if one was in a place where cases were on the rise: use tried and tested public health measures to mitigate risk.
“For example, if you’re in a crowded place or inside and there’s poor ventilation, put on a mask. And if you’re sick, and you can, stay home.”
The fourth, he said, was crucial to accelerate research and development into next generation vaccines, tests and treatments.
“WHO is working with scientists and researchers around the world to make this happen.
“Through the Solidarity Trials, WHO can ensure maximum efficiency of clinical trials so that new tools are developed quicker.
“We don’t know how the next variant will be like.
“This requires that we apply the tools we have now and that we develop the next generation of counter measures quickly,’’ he said.
The WHO boss said the fifth was to continue to work to strengthen the global health architecture for health emergency and response at all levels.
According to him, the organisation welcomes the news about the creation of the financial intermediary fund (FIF), which will focus on strengthening pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacities.
He said the organisation would operate at a national, regional, and global level, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries.
“WHO and the World Bank will take the design forward with the founding donors and broader stakeholders.
“We hope the fund will expand and that this will become an important component of a comprehensive financing solution for health emergencies.
“Also, it is important that the pandemic accord process continues at pace.
“This remains a generational opportunity to improve how countries prepare for and respond to new pathogens,’’ he said.
On monkeypox, the boss said the organisation had continued to be concerned by the scale and spread of the virus.
According to him, across the world, there had been more than 6000 cases recorded in 58 countries.
“Testing remains a challenge and it’s highly probable that there are a significant number of cases not being picked up.
“Europe is the current epicentre of the outbreak, recording more than 80 per cent of cases globally.
“In Africa, cases are appearing in countries not previously affected and record numbers are being recorded in places which have previous experience with monkeypox.”
He said his teams were following the data closely as he planned to reconvene the emergency committee so they are updated on the current epidemiology and evolution of the outbreak, and implementation of counter measures.
“I will bring them together during the week of 18 July or sooner if needed.
“WHO is working with countries and vaccine manufacturers to coordinate the sharing of vaccine, which are currently scarce and need to be accessible to the most at risk people.
“WHO is also working closely with civil society and LGBTIQ+ community, especially to break the stigma around the virus and spread information so people can protect themselves,’’ Ghebreyesus said.
“I want to particularly commend those that are sharing videos online via social media channels talking about their symptoms and experiences with monkeypox.
“This is a positive way to break down the stigma about a virus that can affect anyone,” the boss said.
Ghebreyesus said that in Syria, the humanitarian needs are at their highest level since the war started 11 years ago.
According to him, WHO works across the country to provide lifesaving health support.
“In the northwest of the country, some 4.4 million people, including more than 3.5 million women and children, are in need of humanitarian assistance.
“They depend on the cross-border access for their healthcare, their vaccines and medicines.
“We hope the Security Council will continue to find agreement to preserve the health and welfare of this highly vulnerable population,’’ he said.