The World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to keep the pandemic by COVID-1 as public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC for its acronym in English) after the experts of the Emergency Committee of the International Health Regulations (RSI – 2005) have prepared a report in which they recommend it, after meeting for the fourteenth time on January 27. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, has affirmed that he agrees with this decision because he considers that the SARS-CoV-2 infection continues to be a global health threat.
The director of the organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recalled that the current situation is much better now than a year ago when the omicron variant was at its peak, but he warned that reported deaths have increased since the beginning of December , and that only in the last eight weeks more than 170,000 people died as a result of the infection. “And that’s just the reported deaths; We know that the real figure is much higher,” concluded the WHO chief executive.
The Committee has warned that “long-term public health measures are needed” because the coronavirus is not expected to disappear in the immediate future and considers that the COVID-19 is a “dangerous infectious disease” that can have serious consequences for the health of people and for the health systems of the countries. “While elimination of this virus from human and animal reservoirs is highly unlikely, mitigation of its devastating impact on morbidity and mortality is feasible and should remain a priority objective,” the report states.
The experts that make up this Committee believe that the pandemic is in a transition phaseso it is likely that the level of alarm will end in a few months, but, although they acknowledge that not so many people are dying from COVID anymore, they consider that the fact that new variants of the coronavirus are circulating – ‘Hound of hell’, BQ1, XBB.1.5 or Kraken…– which are more contagious can have a great health impact.
Living with the virus and going from emergency to normality
The relaxation of most preventive measures to control the spread of the virus around the world has contributed to a rebound in infections in some countries, such as China, which, after abandoning the zero COVID policy in December last year , has experienced a significant increase in hospitalizations and deaths, although infections appear to be declining.
For this reason, among the initiatives planned by the WHO, Tedros included vaccinating 100% of the highest-risk groups, increasing the scope of tests and the early use of antiviral drugs, adopting specific measures for each context when there is an increase in cases, maintain and expand laboratory networks and fight against misinformation.
Salvador Peiró, an epidemiologist and researcher at the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research of the Valencian Community (FISABIO), believes that the fact that the Committee has met to assess whether COVID-19 continues to be a public health emergency of international importance “is, by itself, good news. An indicator of the notable improvement in the global pandemic situation”, as stated to SMC Spain.
The expert adds: “Otherwise, it seems reasonable that the WHO wants to maintain the PHEIC until a little more progress is made in: 1) the plans of the member states in preparation and prevention in the medium-long term, 2) maintain attention in the vigilance of new variants and 3) assess some regulatory aspects (some authorizations for vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments, in some countries, are covered by the declaration of COVID-19 as PHEIC)”.
The global response to the pandemic cannot be considered a success because there are still many countries that do not have enough vaccines or therapies to care for COVID patients
From the Emergency Committee they also highlight the need to develop proposals that help maintain attention on COVID-19 when the emergency is over, and even propose that the WHO evaluate the possibility of integrating COVID-19 surveillance into the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, and also provide an assessment on the regulatory implications for developing and licensing vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments if this emergency were to end in the coming months.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, thanked the Emergency Committee for “mitigating” the possible negative consequences of not considering SARS-CoV-2 as a public health emergency of international concern, and noted that the global response to the pandemic it cannot be considered a success because there are still many countries that do not have enough vaccines or therapies to care for those infected.