‘Worrying upsurge’ in deadly cholera, warns Tedros, in wide-ranging global health update
New York: The UN health agency is working diligently in Uganda to support the government in responding to an Ebola outbreak in four districts, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) told journalists on Wednesday, in a wide-ranging briefing which included the latest on a worrying increase in COVID-19 cases across Europe.
So far, 63 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola Virus infection have been reported, including 29 deaths; 10 infected health workers, four of whom have died; and four people who have recovered and are receiving follow-up care.
“WHO has released $2 million from our Contingency Fund for Emergencies (CFE), and we’re…sending additional specialists, supplies, and resources,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the press briefing in Geneva.
Although the inoculations that curbed Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are not effective against the strain active now in Uganda, two vaccines in development could begin clinical trials in the coming weeks, pending government approval.
Pakistan: Post-flood diseases
Although the deadly flood waters in Pakistan have stopped rising, the dangers are surging, Tedros said.
“More than 1,500 lives were lost in the floods, but many more could be lost to disease in the coming weeks, without a massive and urgent international response,” he warned.
The country’s catastrophic flooding has damaged approximately 10 per cent of its health facilities, leaving millions without access to medical care, supplies and access to services.
Amidst new outbreaks of malaria, cholera, and dengue, WHO is focusing on supporting people in camps, those living along the roadside, individuals cut off by flood waters, and populations returning to their destroyed villages and homes.
In addition to $10 million released from the CFE, WHO issued an appeal for $81.5 million to support immunizations and other life-saving health services in response to the unprecedented disaster.
Tedros quoted the UN chief, saying: “This is not about generosity, this is about justice.”
Omicron: ‘Like chasing shadows’
Several European countries are reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, he told the media, but with the vaccines and therapeutics now available, “deaths don’t have to”.
“Omicron remains the dominant variant globally”, continued the WHO chief, adding that while more than 300 sub-variants are being tracked globally, weak surveillance, testing and sequencing make tracking the virus, “like chasing shadows”.
Meanwhile, he noted that influenza season is starting in the Northern hemisphere. Measures to curb COVID-19 also help reduce the flu and he reminded everyone to “please, get your flu vaccine”.
Cholera’s unwelcome return
After years of declining cholera cases, “a worrying upsurge” of deadly outbreaks across the world has emerged over the past year – including in 27 countries since January.
According to limited data, the senior UN official said that the average case fatality rate so far this year, is almost three times that of the past five years.
“In Syria, more than 10,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported just in the past six weeks. And in Haiti, after more than three years with no cases of cholera, two cases have been officially reported this week,” he detailed.
Tedros acknowledged that many cannot access simple interventions, such as vaccines, safe water and sanitation, oral rehydration or antibiotics for more severe cases.
“Cholera thrives on poverty and conflict but is now being turbo-charged by climate change”, he said, while those drivers also “reduce access to clean water and create the ideal environment for cholera to spread,” he explained.
In Haiti for example, some cases are occurring in inaccessible areas controlled by armed gangs.
Though lethal, the disease is preventable and treatable with the right planning and action, said Tedros.
Deadly medical alert
WHO issued a medical product alert for four contaminated cough and cold syrups produced in India by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited that have been potentially linked to acute kidney injuries in The Gambia, including the deaths of 66 children.
As WHO conducts investigation with the company and regulatory authorities in India, Tedros recommends that all countries remove these products from circulation.
“Emergencies are an unfortunate fact of life. We might be able to prevent some, but we can’t prevent them all,” concluded the WHO chief. “But by investing in strong health systems at the local level, we can mitigate the impact emergencies have and save many lives”.