WHO eager to enlist all countries in fight against Covid-19

By Isabel Saco

Geneva, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- The World Health Organization (WHO) remained engaged on multiple fronts Thursday in the struggle against the Covid-19 coronavirus, including the effort to convince nations as yet untouched by the pandemic to make the necessary preparations.

The illness has infected more than 207,000 people worldwide and is blamed for upwards of 8,600 deaths.

“We have confidence in our member states, and the only way we can defeat this pandemic, as we have always been saying, is through solidarity. Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a teleconference with officials from 194 nations.

“That’s what we’re seeing now. This is a common enemy. Let’s keep that solidarity up. We’re one human race, and that suffices actually. This is an invisible enemy against humanity,” he said.

The WHO is trying to coordinate international efforts against Covid-19, including ensuring provision of equipment and protective gear to health care workers and supplying diagnostic tests.

Three days after insisting that “you cannot fight a fire blindfolded,” Tedros said WHO had shipped 1.5 million diagnostic kits to 120 countries.

Regarding the shortage of protective items for health care workers in the hardest-hit countries, Tedros said the Chinese government had authorized personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers with surplus capacity to sell to the WHO.

“We’ve identified producers with over-capacity, we’re finalizing specifications, and coordinating shipments so we can refill our warehouse to ship PPE to whoever needs it most,” he said.

While expressing gratitude for the nearly $675 million contributed to the WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, Tedros said that additional money would be needed as the virus continued to spread.

“We need financial support for a global security stockpile of supplies and medicines for the most vulnerable countries,” he said. “From manufacturers, we need access to their production capacity, and we have tried to give them specific and concrete requests on how they can participate in the Covid response.”

One of the tangible advances in fostering collaboration is the Solidarity Trial, which sees the WHO working with around a dozen countries, including Argentina and Spain, to test treatments and compare results.

“We have a complete list of all the non-evaluated medications that exist and a team of experts who help us review the scientific evidence. Based on those discussions, we recommend to researchers the ones they should test the soonest,” Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo, head of the WHO’s research and development unit, told Efe.

Tedros celebrated the start of the first vaccine trial – the first test subject enrolled is in the United States – within two months of the sharing of the genetic sequence of the virus as an “unprecedented scientific triumph.”

Even so, drug company executives agreed Thursday that the earliest a vaccine would be ready is a year from now.

“We need to ensure the safety. It’s going to take 12 to 18 months until you have a registered vaccine on the market,” David Loew, executive vice president of Sanofi Pasteur, said during a virtual press conference hosted in Geneva by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.

Rajeev Venkayya, president of the Global Vaccines Business Unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, said that the 12-18 month timeline was “very aggressive but we think it might be feasible.”

“It’s a new virus which needs new tools, and that’s where we have to start from scratch on the research,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson. EFE


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