Fighting the coronavirus, together, writes Soumya Swaminathan – analysis
The outbreak of the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, which began in China in December 2019, has spread rapidly throughout the world. The disease has now been detected in more than 75 countries, including India, causing more than 3,000 deaths worldwide. It is caused by the SARS corona virus. Other members of the group cause the common cold.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, fatigue and dry cough. Some patients have aches and pains, sore throat or diarrhea. The good news is that for most people, the disease is mild; Approximately 80% will recover from the disease without the need for special treatment.
However, older people and people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes can get seriously ill. About 2 to 3% of people with the disease have died. This mortality rate is much higher than that of seasonal influenza (0.1%). Only 2% of confirmed cases have been in children and adolescents under 20 years of age; It is unknown what role children play in the transmission of the disease.
There are still no specific treatments to treat the disease, nor is there a vaccine available. Vaccines are in development, but it will be at least 12-18 months before any are ready to use. Many reused medications (including those used to treat HIV, influenza and other viral infections) are undergoing clinical trials, along with complementary treatments. Currently, the treatment consists of symptomatic and supportive treatment. India should participate in the research and development effort to develop new tools (diagnosis, vaccines and therapy) for this new virus, as well as contribute to a better understanding of its epidemiology and transmission dynamics.
The virus seems to spread through the transmission of drops. When a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales, small drops of the nose or mouth fall on surfaces and objects around them. When others touch these surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, or breathe the drops of an infected person, they can get the virus.
Fortunately, there are several things that people can do to protect themselves. The most important thing is hand hygiene. People should wash their hands frequently with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds; When water is not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers should be used.
Stay at least one meter (three feet) from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Practice good respiratory hygiene; cough or sneeze into a tissue or folded elbow. Dispose of used tissues immediately. People who feel bad should stay at home.
People who have no symptoms do not need to wear a medical mask. But those who do have symptoms and those who care for people with symptoms should wear masks. The World Health Organization (WHO) is deeply concerned about disruptions in the global supply of personal protective equipment, including medical masks, gloves, gowns and aprons. Some of these shortages have been caused by irrational panic purchases.
Everyone should follow the latest advice from national and local public health authorities.
What should these authorities do now?
All countries, including India, should have already activated their national public health emergency management mechanisms. For many countries, this will mean adapting an existing preparedness plan for influenza pandemics. The Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP) of the Ministry of Health can be used for epidemiological surveillance of unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia. Large-scale laboratory tests are critical, as is the exchange of information. Cases must be detected quickly and their contacts must be tracked comprehensively and quickly. Infection prevention and control practices in health facilities and communities should be reviewed and improved when necessary.
Facilities and health care personnel should be prepared for large increases in the number of people suspected of COVID-19. The geographic spread of the virus should be monitored, as well as the intensity of transmission, the tendencies of the disease, the characterization of the virological characteristics and the evaluation of the impact of the disease on health services. Information must be available to travelers and staff at entry points (airports, ports).
One of the most important things that governments can do is communicate clearly and precisely with the public. People need to understand what public health authorities do and do not know about the disease, and what they are doing to contain it. Clear and consistent messages from reliable experts and community leaders should be disseminated in local languages. Bidirectional channels, such as direct text and telephone lines, and social networks should be established so that the population can obtain information and ask questions. This is also key to combat the spread of myths and misinformation.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for public officials to be transparent and open to the public. When citizens believe that their government is being honest with them, they are more likely to take protective measures for themselves and their communities. Public health measures must be adapted to particular situations and be evaluated and updated frequently, depending on changes in epidemiology. WHO is ready to help India and all other countries in this outbreak. Technical guidance has been assembled, as well as a database of open access publications on COVID-19. A large number of resources, including a daily status report, press releases, summaries of press reports and infographics for printing and sharing on social networks, are available to the public, policy makers, doctors and officials of public health.
Coordination and collaboration are essential to combat this common threat. As the director general of WHO, Dr. Tedros said: “Our greatest enemy at this time is not the coronavirus itself. It is fear, rumors and stigma. “And our greatest asset is facts, reason and solidarity.
Soumya Swaminathan is chief scientist, World Health Organization, Geneva.
The opinions expressed are personal.