GP Insights # 289, 14 March 2020
WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus officially announced on Wednesday, 11 March 2020, that the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China had increased 13 times in the last fortnight and that number of affected countries had tripled. Hence it is now "a pandemic". More than 120,000 cases have been reported in 114 countries, and about 4,300 people have lost their lives so far. The number of deaths and affected countries are expected to climb higher. The WHO also noted an alarming level of spread and severity accompanied by alarming levels of inaction. The good news amidst all this is that 81 countries have not reported any Covid-19 cases and 57 countries have reported only 10 cases or less.
What is the background?
An epidemic is a large outbreak of a disease that is out of control, spreading beyond a city to a broader area, affecting more people than a simple 'outbreak'. However, a pandemic is when the disease spreads over several countries or continents and can affect the whole world.
The declaration came soon after identified cases multiplied in the United States in just two days and also German Chancellor Angela Merkel mentioned that 60 to 70 per cent of Germans could get affected by the virus. Italy declared a complete shutdown and specialists cautioned more significant number of nations would witness massive flare-ups and medicinal services shortage issues.
What does it mean?
The WHO has maintained that declaration of a pandemic does not change WHO's assessment of the threat posed by the coronavirus. The WHO has also come under criticism for becoming one of the many Big Institutions that have failed smaller nations as it declared the virus as a Pandemic only after the US and European nations were affected. According to many, the decision came very late. However, the WHO believes that careless use of the word 'Pandemic' could cause unreasonable fear leading to unnecessary suffering and death.
Following the announcement, a first-of-its-kind 'new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Solidarity Response Fund' was set up by the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation, together with the WHO to enable private individuals, corporations and institutions world over raise money and support the WHO and its partners to help countries respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO however believes that hope is not lost as countries can together still change the course of this pandemic as the world has never before seen a pandemic that 'can be controlled'. Nations should take urgent and aggressive actions as the WHO has rung the alarm bell loud and clear.