WHO warns that combatting the virus must be done locally and that complacency makes the virus more dangerous. People need to remain engaged.
The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to be the leading global health advisory, tracking the trajectory of the coronavirus and the efficacy of test treatments and vaccines. Their free who.org online learning platform now has 3 million enrollments in their courses on COVID-19. They also recently added two new courses about decontamination and sterilization of medical devices, and environmental cleaning and disinfections. They continue to provide science-backed and objective guidelines surrounding reopening and public health preventative measures.
In the opening remarks of the WHO Press Conference, Director-General Dr. Tedros Abhanon Ghebreyesus said, “WHO is committed to accelerating the development of effective therapeutics, vaccines, and diagnostics as part of our commitment to serving the world with science, solutions, and solidarity. I thank you.” The rest of the press conference proceeded following Dr. Tedro’s firm guideline about factual science as the foundation for all of WHO’s research and actions.
When asked about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a drug found to have both positive and detrimental effects on treating COVID-19 patients based on varying studies, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan emphasized the importance of randomized trials. She said, “There are so many potential biases in the way that you know patients are managed in a regular clinical setting that the only way to get definitive answers is to do well-conducted randomized trials. And it’s particularly important in emergency settings to do these because that’s the only way to find out what really are those drugs or those strategies that will reduce illness, which will reduce infection rates in communities. We should be guided by science and evidence.”
Dr. Swaminathan’s response is particularly pertinent to the discussion surrounding hydroxychloroquine. While some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine leads to more death than recoveries, some of these studies gave patients hydroxychloroquine when they were in the severe stages of COVID-19. There are other studies that suggest that hydroxychloroquine, with a combination of the antibiotic, azithromycin, is more effective in preventing the replication of SARS-CoV-2 viruses during the earlier progression of the disease. Yet, there are other studies, as promoted by the CDC, show that hydroxychloroquine may affect heart rhythm problems and have other serious side effects. Therefore, factors, such as when the test treatment was given in the progression of the disease, act as potential biases and variables that affect the results of randomized trials.
Virus Becomes More Dangerous As People Grow Complacent
When asked whether this virus becomes more dangerous with an increased time that this virus circulates, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove responded in the affirmative. According to Dr. Kerkhove, the WHO has been discussing analyzing whether the chances that the virus mutates increase as more of the virus spreads.
Dr. Kerkhove ascertained, “there’s a large number of scientists and biologists who are looking at full genome sequences of the virus that are available, that are being shared by countries all over the world… Scientists are looking to see: are there changes in the virus?” There are normal changes in this virus that no one would expect over time. None of these changes so far indicate that the virus itself is changing in terms of its ability to transmit or to cause more severe disease.” Recent genome analysis from different countries shows that the virus “is not mutating in a way that makes it more transmissible or more severe.”
Despite the relatively stable mutations in the genome of the virus, Dr. Kerkhove warned that the virus is becoming more dangerous the more that it circulates because people are growing complacent.
She said, “I think part of that answer is yes because people grow tired, you know people, it’s very difficult to keep up all of these measures and we must, you know, remain strong and vigilant, to have governments fully engaged and people fully engaged.” She went on to emphasize that the reintroduction of public health and social measures in the future “could make the virus more dangerous because people become complacent. And it’s important that no one becomes complacent. This is far from over.”
Combatting the Virus Must Be Done Locally
While it is important for governments to continue to layout social distancing guidelines and preventative health measures to lower the rates of infection as countries reopen, combatting the virus is done best at the local level.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove asserts unwaveringly that “tackling this virus at the lowest administrative level as you can is helpful. Looking at it at the national level is one thing and having a strong national plan. But, implementing these efforts at the lowest administrative level will be helpful to help you find where the virus is and target what you need to do.”
Therefore, even as the WHO and national and state governments continue to guide people on avoiding the coronavirus, the best action must be taken on the individual and local level, which collectively will constitute a strong preventative response against the trajectory of the coronavirus.