Virus Cina (Getty)

Coronavirus, Are We Doing Enough?

The end of the new coronavirus seems to still be out of sight as more infections and deaths continue to be reported in China especially in Hubei province where the virus reportedly originated in the capital city of Wuhan.

The Growing Coronavirus Threat In China

At the moment the total number of infections in China stands at 20, 438 having risen by 18% from 17,203 which had been recorded the previous day. The number of deaths has also risen significantly and is now at 425 in China, marking an increase of 65% just in two days.

According to statistics released by China’s National Health Commission,the average death rate from coronavirus throughout China stands at 2.1%. Hubei province recorded the highest number of death rate at 3.1%, with most victims being over the age of 60. According to the commission most of them were people with underlying medical conditions which made them more vulnerable to the virus.

Coronavirus Cases Outside China Still Rare

Outside China reported cases of coronavirus are still low but they may increase in the near future depending on the effectiveness of preparatory actions that are taken. Countries neighboring China will continue to bear the brunt of the coronavirus because of cross-border movements

In total, 207 cases have already been reported in the neighboring countries and territories, among them Philippines and Hong Kong. While only one case of death was reported in the Philippines, two cases were reported in Hong Kong, with one of the victims having traveled from Wuhan.

WHO Speaks Out On Coronavirus

Although many have praised the steps China has taken to combat the spread of virus, there are those who feel much needs to be done. Last week’s declaration of the virus as a public health emergency of international concern by The World Health Organization (WHO) was particularly significant. The UN agency defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease” and “to potentially require a coordinated international response.”

Initially the WHO was reluctant to declare the coronavirus as an emergency, but did so after the recommendation of its emergency committee meeting held in Geneva, The committee’s chairman Didier Hossain said that the recommendation to the WHO was unanimously approved by the members because of the growing number of cases in China and other countries.

However WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was more specific, stating that the main reason for the declaration was not because of what was happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries. “Let me be clear. This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he said. “On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.”

Third World Countries Are Not Ready

The importance of this step is that it will help WHO to counter the spread of the virus to poor countries which would result in a serious situations. This is because third world countries have weaker health systems , and have no measures to deal with any outbreak of  the virus. Because of this there’s growing fear that the virus could spread uncontrollably if it finds its way into poor countries

Different  experts have been giving different opinions on what needs to be done in terms of additional steps. Lawrence Gostin the director of WHO Collaborating Centre for National and Global Health Law, says that WHO needs to launch a global action plan to get the Coronavirus outbreak under control. According to him the action plan should include speedy development of a vaccine, and an increase in public health response from the Chinese.

“I am currently not seeing a surge in public health response going from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, community to community and doing intensive testing, screening, contact tracing,” Gostin said.

Gostin also called for China to allow international experts saying, “I think it would send a powerful signal to the world that this isn’t a closed society. China’s trying to make it appear the epidemic is under control, that they are fully competent and in control. But I don’t think they are.”

Poor Countries Need More Support

Other experts are advocating for more support to be given to poor countries to enable them deal with outbreaks. “In lower and middle income countries that don’t have either functioning health system or adequate front-line health workers to deal with the response , a public health emergency of international concern is vital to be able to stem the outbreak and to be able to respond accordingly,” said Ashley Arabasadi the Chair of the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium.

Similar views were echoed in a statement by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board GPMB which read: “All donors, including governments, the World Banks, the GFATM , and Gavi should financially support lower resourced countries, inclusive of using the Pandemic Emergency Facility and other existing channels. Donors and development partners should prioritize financial and technical support to low and middle income countries/communities at risk to assist them in building these capacities notably to improve early detection and control of the virus, limit the risk of transmission, and their ability to respond.”

The world has already committed itself to supporting poor countries saying:“ The World Bank Group stands ready to support all our clients countries , especially the poorest and most vulnerable, to help manage the widening impact to their people of this crisis.”

Hopefully more donors will take a cue from the World Bank and commit to support developing countries in dealing with emergencies related to the coronavirus.