WHO Protests Price Shocks & Hoarding Of Vital Protective Gear Needed To Fight Coronavirus; WHO Executive Board Calls For More Preparedness

The world is facing a “severe disruption” in stocks of personal protective equipment vital for health workers to fight the novel coronavirus  raging through China’s Hubei Province and threatening other countries worldwide, said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a Friday press briefing.

The Director-General spoke as cases of the new (2019-nCoV) virus continued to rise inside China to 31,211 confirmed infections on Friday. Abroad some 270 cases were confirmed. However, for the second day running, the 24-hour increase in new cases was slightly lower, Dr Tedros noted.

Nurse wearing a specialized mask, cap, gown and gloves measures the body temperature of a coronavirus patient in Hubei TCM Hospital. Such gear is vital to protect health workers from infection.

“Fewer new infections have been registered in the last two days, which is good news, but to be taken with caution,” Dr Tedros said. Overnight Tuesday, there were 3,925 new cases in China, as compared to 3,697 overnight Wednesday and 3,151 overnight Thursday to Friday morning.

However the number of new cases reported elsewhere in the world was still increasing every day, with a total of 54 new cases recorded overnight Thursday in 24 countries. That included cases on a cruise ship quarantined in Tokyo’s harbor, where some 61 people among over 3,000 passengers have now been confirmed to be infected with the virus.

In the face of worldwide public fears over infection, demand for specialized masks with N-95 or other high-quality filters and other personal protective gear usually worn by health care professionals is “100 times greater” than normal, said Dr Tedros, and that has depleted stockpiles, created a backlog of orders while sending prices through the roof.

(left-right) Mike Ryan, Dr Tedros, Maria Van Kerkhove

He said he had convened a teleconference with equipment manufacturers on Friday, to asking them to avoid hoarding materials and ensure a more targeted release of stocks to front-line workers in China and elsewhere that need the materials the most.

“When there is a shortage, there can be hoarding to sell at higher prices. There is a moral issue here. That is why we had a discussion with manufacturers,” said Dr Tedros. “It’s really important that we prioritize this for people who need it most, health workers and people caring for their families.”

Added Mike Ryan, WHO’s head of emergencies, “At every stage of the supply chain there is a possibility for disruption, for profiteering. We need the public and the private sector, the wholesalers and retailers” to come together, he added.

Studies Provide Initial Profile Of Seriously Ill Patients

Meanwhile, new a study that analysed the profile of 138 patients hospitalized in Wuhan for the virus between 1-28 January, found that the median age of those seriously ill was 56 years old – with the range between 22 and 92 years of age. Some 54% were men.

The most common symptoms at onset of illness were fever, fatigue, dry cough (82), muscle pain (34.8%), and breathing difficulties (31.2%), according to the study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Less common symptoms were headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. A total of 14 patients (10.1%) initially presented with diarrhea and nausea 1 to 2 days prior to development of fever and other symptoms.

Of the patients admitted, 36 (26.1%) were admitted and transferred to an intensive care unit, (ICU) because of the development of organ dysfunction. The median durations from first symptoms to hospital admission, and acute respiratory distress syndrome was about 5 days. Of the 138 patients, 64 (46.4%) had 1 or more coexisting medical conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.  As of 3 February, 34% of those patients had been discharged, after an average stay of 10 days. Among those hospitalized, 4.3% had died.

Among the entire population of those infected, some 82% of have only mild cases, while some 15% are severely ill, and another 2% have died, said Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO emergencies expert in Friday’s briefing.

New Research Suggests Pangolin, Scaly Mammal Used In Traditional Medicines, May Be Coronavirus Source

Meanwhile, a report published in Nature suggested that the Pangolin, a scaly mammal that is an endangered species in Africa and Asia, but still popular for its meat as well as uses in traditional Chinese medicine, may have been the source of the coronavirus that infected humans in Wuhan.

Two researchers at South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, Shen Yongyi and Xiao Lihua, announced the preliminary finding in a press conference on Friday, based on a genetic analysis of coronaviruses that the mammals carry, which are 99% similar to that of the 2019-nCoV virus circulating in human populations.  The United Nations Environment Programme and World Wildlife Fund WWF have been waging campaigns to save the world’s only scaly mammal, often described as “the most trafficked” on the plant.  The eight pangolin species living in Africa as well as in Asia, are protected by international and national laws, but they are threatened with extinction by illegal wildlife poaching and trade.

Scientists have previously suggested that the coronavirus first originated in bats. But it is also likely that the virus was transmitted to humans by another animal on sale at a wild animal market in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak first occured. If the scientists are proved correct, it would be the second time that a coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory disesase spread from a traditional Chinese food market to trigger a major global disease outbreak.  Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which caused the 2002-03 outbreak, originally spread from bats to civet cats to humans.


WHO Executive Board Acts On Emergency Preparedness – Travel Restrictions Skyrocket

Meanwhile, on Saturday, the final day of a week long meeting of WHO’s Executive Board, the governing body approved a draft World Health Assembly resolution on “Strengthening Preparedness for Health Emergencies; Implementation of International Health Regulations“. 

The United States dissassociated from one provision that referred to the need to deliver “sexual and reproductive health, and maternal, newborn and child health services” during health emergencies. 

The final text of the disputed paragrah recognizes “the need to involve women, youth, people with disabilities, and older people in planning and decision-making, and the need to ensure that during health emergencies, health systems ensure the delivery of and the universal access to health-care [services, including strong routine immunization, mental health and psycho–social support, trauma recovery, sexual and reproductive health, and maternal, newborn and child health].”

The resolution, which will go before the WHA for final approval, sets out a detailed list of measures that the UN, global community and member states should take to improve international coordination as well as national preparedness for emergencies.

The resolution also calls on member states to adhere more diligently to the WHO International Health Regulations, a binding convention that governs international and national health responses to emergencies such as the coronavirus epidemic.

Friday’s WHO outbreak situation report noted that 72 out of 194 member states have now implemented some form of travel restrictions as a result of the epidemic. That included 10 more countries that had applied restrictions in just the past 24 hours, the report stated,

Among the countries that had imposed restrictions, however, only 23 had filed official reports with WHO regarding the measures taken and their public health rationale, as they are required to do under the IHR.

Updated 8 February 2020

Image Credits: China News Service.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.