WHO still hopes to contain the coronavirus epidemic in Chinese territory

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), at the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 12. Salvatore Di Nolfi / AP

It was necessary to bring together, in Geneva and online some four hundred scientists, on February 11 and 12, to try to answer the main questions pending in the Covid-19 epidemic, since this is how the World Health (WHO) has renamed the disease due to infection with the new coronavirus 2019-nCoV (name which must also be modified by the international body for the classification of viruses).

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WHO estimates that there is still time to contain the epidemic on Chinese territory, where 99% of the 60,335 confirmed cases are concentrated and, with one exception, all of the 1,369 deaths recorded on February 13 . A goal that could only be achieved if we speed up the development of tests, treatments and, in the longer term, vaccines against 2019-nCoV.

“Do not disperse our forces”

“We have discussed a lot of priorities sector by sector in order to define immediate priorities for what is really urgent, and not to disperse our forces”, explains Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, specialist in viral diseases at Inserm, who co-chaired the forum organized by the WHO. During the two-day meeting, scientists, but also funders, reviewed the different dimensions of the epidemic and identified the main issues. It will be up to WHO to coordinate and harmonize the response by defining benchmarks and recommendations.

Many questions have not yet been answered: when is an infected person likely to transmit the virus? Is this possible before the onset of symptoms or if there are very few clinical manifestations? Until when does a patient remain contaminated?

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Data from China on diagnostic tests that identify the presence of 2019-nCoV are unreliable, which has prompted Chinese authorities to amend the case definition criteria for Covid-19. “We need reliable and validated tests for mass use at the bedside, insists Doctor Kieny. Likewise, we need serological tests. “ These identify a posteriori the antibodies that a person who has been infected has developed against 2019-nCoV. This helps to better establish the total number of cases of the epidemic.

No treatment yet

Another major issue is that of the best therapeutic care for patients. There is no treatment yet proven to be effective. Several drugs are currently prescribed. Some have already been used experimentally with SARS (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) coronaviruses. This is the case of the combination of two drugs, Lopinavir and Ritonavir, regularly used against HIV.

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