This week, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus and the leadership at the World Health Organization haven’t gotten much rest.
On Monday, in their thrice weekly news conference, the Director-General and WHO officials were still intent on characterizing the Coronavirus as anything other than an epidemic. Already, numbers had surpassed 100,000 cases in 100 countries.
On Wednesday, 70 days after the first reported case in China, the officials reluctantly came to a difficult decision: They finally declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By using the word, it’s as if they felt like they were giving in. On the contrary, they wanted the world to know they weren’t giving up.
On Friday, as the number of infections soared beyond 133,000 with 5,000 deaths, Dr. Ghebreyesus not only rallied governments to aggressively scale up their attack on the virus, but also enlisted individuals, communities and corporations to join the fight.
“We are at a critical point in the global response to COVID-19,” said Dr. Ghebreyesus, a former Minister of Health from Ethiopia. “We need everyone to get involved in this massive effort to keep the world safe.”
The Solidarity Response Fund, established by the UN Foundation and partners, will allow WHO to raise money from the private sector to assist at-risk countries with weaker health systems. The funds will be used to carry out WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan to provide a range of services, which will include distributing protective equipment, improving data collection, accelerating research and development.
Cost of Containment
In February, WHO requested $675 million to fend off the virus when it was a mere epidemic in fewer than 25 countries.
Earlier this month, Mark Lowcock, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, announced the release of a $15 million grant to benefit WHO and UNICEF. This Central Emergency Response Fund also will be used to help countries with fragile health systems detect and contain the virus.
Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health gave $27 million to WHO for its COVID-19 appeal. Several other governments found money in their budgets to offer financial assistance: China ($20 million), the United States ($7.3 million), Azerbaijan ($5 million), Korea ($3 million), the United Kingdom ($1.4 million). And France, Ireland and Norway each made million-dollar contributions.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $9.5 million to WHO’s efforts; in addition, the foundation contributed upward to $100 million in the global response to COVID-19.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund made available a $50 billion financing package, and the World Bank announced $12 billion in technical and financial support to address the needs of lower-income countries.
“The virus is all over the world,” said Dr. Muhammad Pate, global director for Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank Group. “Yet there are some geographies where it’s not really established because they haven’t been able to diagnose it or the virus hasn’t reached them yet.”
Lower-income countries that may be more vulnerable in terms of preparedness will need support before the virus hits, said Dr. Pate, a former Minister of Health from Nigeria. “Or if the virus is [already] there, we can target inventions to respond adequately.”
Counting the Cases
With such a rapidly developing story, when cases can double or even triple overnight, it seems impossible for the government and media to keep track of the pandemic.
Bo Zhao, a geography professor at the University of Washington in the United States, may have a resolution to provide up-to-date figures. Now, confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries are available on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Map, which Zhao developed through his university and in cooperation with the Anadolu Agency, a Turkish-based international media service.
Egypt, the site of the first reported infection on the continent, leads Africa with 93 cases on the map. According to Egypt Today, the country’s two reported deaths are a German man and an Egyptian woman.
Passengers and crew members from a cruise ship account for 45 of the Egyptian infections, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), which also has been tracking cases and sources of the virus.
In South Africa, there are 38 reported cases, according to the map and the Johannesburg-based National Institute for Communicable Disease.
Algeria now has 37 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths on the map. The Africa CDC noted that 17 members of one family were among the infected.
Senegal shows 21 reported cases on the map. Tunisia shows 13 cases. Morocco is up to seven, with one death. And Cameroon is now at three.
A husband and wife, who are French nationals, are the two cases in Burkina Faso; a third person who traveled with the couple is under quarantine though he had no symptoms. The Africa CDC figures for Burkina Faso coincided with the map’s findings.
Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health has two cases confirmed. On February 28, the country reported its first case, an Italian worker in Nigeria returning from Milan to Lagos. The country’s second reported case was March 10. And the map figures agreed with the ministry’s numbers.
Ghana and Namibia, according to the map, each have two reported COVID-19 cases. And the Democratic Republic of the Congo also has two confirmed cases, which were reported by the Anadolu Agency though it has yet to register on the map.
The Sudan’s first reported case is also the nation’s first COVID-19 fatality, according to the map. An article in the Sudan Tribune reported that the victim, a 50-year-old man who had recently visited the United Arab Emirates, wasn't diagnosed until his death.
Single cases were reported on the map in the following 10 nations: Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritania, Rwanda, Swaziland and Togo.
Globally, the map tracks the COVID-19 cases at 148,331, with a death toll of 5,573. It also listed 73,398 recoveries, which is a rate rarely mentioned in the COVID-19 conversation.
It’s worth noting that the recovery numbers reflect the sentiments echoed all week during the press conferences by Dr. Ghebreyesus: “This is the first pandemic that can be controlled.”
For those interested in joining WHO’s fight to combat the virus, visit the website at www.who.int.