Covid-19 remains a global health emergency, the World Health Organization said on Monday, but it acknowledged the pandemic was at a “point of transition”.
WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee discussed the pandemic on Friday at its 14th meeting on Covid-19, and Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed that the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern , or PHEIC, is expected to continue.
In a statement on Monday, the WHO advisory committee said it urges the WHO to come up with “alternative mechanisms to maintain global and national attention on COVID-19 after the USPPI ends.”
“Achieving higher levels of population immunity globally, either through infection and/or vaccination, may limit the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on morbidity and mortality, but there is no doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals. in the foreseeable future. As such, long-term public health action is absolutely necessary,” the committee said in a statement Monday. “Although elimination of this virus from human and animal reservoirs is highly unlikely, mitigating its devastating impact on morbidity and mortality is achievable and should continue to be a priority goal.”
In a list of temporary recommendations, Tedros said countries should continue to vaccinate people and incorporate Covid-19 vaccines into routine care; improving disease surveillance; maintain a strong health care system to avoid a “panic and neglect cycle”; continue to fight misinformation; and adjust international travel measures based on risk assessment.
The organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a USPPI in January 2020, about six weeks before calling it a pandemic.
A USPPI creates an agreement between countries to comply with WHO recommendations for emergency management. Each country, in turn, declares its own public health emergency – declarations that have legal standing. Countries use them to mobilize resources and break rules to mitigate a crisis.
The United States also remains subject to its own public health emergency declaration, which US Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed on January 11.
More than 170,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the past eight weeks, Tedros said last week when he announced the committee meeting, and while the world is better equipped to handle the pandemic than it is was three years ago, he remains “very concerned about the situation in many countries and the increasing number of deaths.
While global Covid-19 deaths are trending up, the seven-day average remains significantly lower than previous points in the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Last week, before the committee meeting, Tedros pleaded with countries not to let up on the fight against Covid-19.
“My message is clear: do not underestimate this virus,” he said. “It has surprised us and will continue to surprise us, and it will continue to kill unless we do more to get health tools to people in need and comprehensively fight misinformation.”
Also on Monday, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released two new reports warning that “all countries remain dangerously unprepared for future outbreaks”.
IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said the Covid-19 pandemic should be “a wake-up call”.
“The next pandemic could be just around the corner; If the experience of COVID-19 doesn’t hasten our steps toward preparedness, what will? “, he said in a press release.
Reports indicate that many of the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on countries, such as loss of jobs and poverty, loss of learning, food insecurity and increased health problems mental health, could have been avoided if governments had invested in emergency preparedness. They recommend that countries prepare for simultaneous risks, such as epidemics and extreme weather events.
“We need to start preparing now, as our world is becoming increasingly dangerous,” said the IFRC’s 2022 World Disaster Report, noting that many disasters are caused by climate change. “In 2021, 378 disasters were recorded – not counting epidemics – which is above the 20-year average of 337 disasters per year. Many countries have had to respond to hazards such as hurricanes and floods while coping with COVID-19. »
The report urges “action at the community level” to prepare for disaster on the front lines and to address existing economic and racial inequalities so that they are not exacerbated when disaster strikes.
The IFRC’s 2023 report, Everyone Matters, also emphasizes “local resilience”, strengthening and investing in the “public health, sanitation, shelter and economic security” of communities.
Ultimately, the report states, “No one is safe until everyone is safe. The pandemic is not over and neither is the response.