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WHO advises countries to test all suspected COVID-19 cases

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised all countries to test every suspected COVID-19 case, saying it is the most effective way to prevent infections, save lives and break the chains of COVID-19 transmission.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Photo credit: AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI / Getty Images

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, gave this advice on Monday, March 16, 2020 at a media briefing on COVID-19 update.

Ghebreyesus said that, in the past week, there had been a rapid escalation of cases of COVID-19 and deaths reported in the rest of the world than in China.

“We have seen a rapid escalation in social distancing measures, like closing schools, cancelling sporting events and other gatherings.

“But, we haven’t seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the COVID-19 response,” he said.

According to him, social distancing measures can help to reduce COVID-19 transmission and enable health systems to cope.

“Handwashing and coughing into your elbow can reduce the risk for yourself and others.

“But on their own, they aren’t enough to extinguish this COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s the combination that makes the difference. As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach.

“But the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of COVID-19 transmission. To do that, you must test and isolate.

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded,  and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” he said.

Ghebreyesus stressed that every suspected COVID-19 case that tested positive should be isolated, and contact tracing of all that came in close contact with the case up to two days before the case developed symptoms should also be tested.

“Everyday, more tests are being produced to meet the global demand.

“WHO has shipped almost 1.5 million tests to 120 countries. We’re working with companies to increase the availability of tests for those most in need,” he said.

He advised that all confirmed COVID-19 cases, even mild cases, should be isolated in health facilities, to prevent transmission and provide adequate care.

“But we recognise that many countries have already exceeded their capacity to care for mild cases in dedicated hospitals.

“In that situation, countries should prioritise older patients and those with underlying conditions.

“Some countries have expanded their capacities by using stadiums and gyms to care for mild COVID-19 cases, with severe and critical cases cared for in hospitals.

“Another option is for patients with mild COVID-19 to be isolated and cared for at home,” the WHO official said.

He, however, warned that caring for infected people at home might put others in the same household at risk, saying “it’s critical that care-givers follow WHO’s guidance on how to provide care as safely as possible”.

“For example, both the COVID-19 patients and their caregiver should wear a medical mask when they are together in the same room.

“The patient should sleep in a separate bedroom to others and use a different bathroom.

“Assign one person to care for the COVID-19 patient, ideally someone who is in good health and has no underlying conditions.

“The caregivers should wash their hands after any contact with the patients or their immediate environment.

“People infected with COVID-19 can still infect others after they stop feeling sick, so these measures should continue for at least two weeks after symptoms disappeared.

“Visitors should not be allowed until the end of this period. There are more details in WHO’s guidance,” he said.

According to him, COVID-19 is a serious disease, saying evidence has suggested that those over 60 are at highest risk, and that young people, including children, have died.

“WHO has issued new clinical guidance, with specific details on how to care for children, older people and pregnant women.

“So far, we have seen epidemics in countries with advanced health systems. Even, they have struggled to cope,”  Ghebreyesus said.

He expressed concern about the impact coronavirus could have among populations with high HIV prevalence or malnourished children, as the COVID-19 moves to low-income countries.

“We’re calling on every country and individual to do everything they can to stop transmission.

“Washing your hands will help to reduce your risk of coronavirus infection.

“But it’s also an act of solidarity because it reduces the risk you will infect others in your community and around the world.

“Do it for yourself, do it for others.

“We also ask people to express their solidarity by refraining from hoarding essential items, including medicines,” he said.

Ghebreyesus added that hoarding could create shortage of medicines and other essential products, which could also exacerbate suffering.

He expressed gratitude to everyone who had contributed to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, saying 110,000 people have contributed almost $19 million since the fund was launched on March 13.

Ghebreyesus said that the funds would help to buy diagnostic tests, supplies for health workers and support research and development.

According to him, the days, weeks and months ahead will be a test of our resolve, a test of trust in science, and a test of solidarity, adding that crises like COVID-19 tend to bring out the best and worst in humanity.

“We’re all in this together. And we can only succeed together,” Ghebreyesus said.

By Oluwafunke Ishola

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