On March 11, the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared the COVID-19 outbreak a ‘pandemic’, further stating that it is not a term to be used ‘lightly or carelessly’.
According to WHO, a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.
In a media briefing, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO stated that “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
Why did WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic?
Based on the assessment of the number of cases across the world also the estimated rate at which cases of COVID-19 are spreading, WHO has made such an announcement.
The Director-General of WHO stated that–“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”
Furthermore, WHO affirmed that this is a pandemic that can be checked, and this is the first one caused by a coronavirus.
WHO do not usually declare public health situations which do not involve flu as pandemics.
Last month the organisation had raised its risk assessment level on the virus to the highest level.
Will there be a change in the response of WHO towards the virus outbreak?
WHO has clearly stated that characterising the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic does not change their way in response towards the virus. Besides, it does not alter what countries should do to contain the spread of the virus.
It highlighted that measures taken by countries “can still change the course of this pandemic,” making it clear that nations should take utmost care and caution to contain the virus.
Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said health officials take the characterization “very seriously,” adding “we understand the implication of the word.”
Ryan additional stated that some countries are not communicating about the virus with their citizens well, which is creating unnecessary panic and confusion. He said that it is crucial to build a solid trust between government and its population during such a situation.
Furthermore, he said, “All countries need to reveal their strategies right now.”
When was the last time a pandemic was declared?
The last official declaration of a pandemic was in 2009, which was due to H1N1 swine flu outbreak, commonly called “swine flu”. Tedros stated that COVID-19 is the first time a coronavirus has caused a pandemic. The 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which is also a coronavirus, was contained enough to avoid that classification.
In recent history, HIV/AIDS Pandemic at its peak killed 36 million during 2005-2012. Flu Pandemic killed a million in 1968, and Asian Flu killed two million during 1956-1958.
“Pandemics can have unusual epidemiological patterns, and large outbreaks can occur in the summer months,” the WHO said in a statement issued in 2010.
Current issues stated by WHO
Ryan said that “Epidemics stress every component of a nation.”
Moreover, he said– “They stress governance, they stress trust between government and the citizen, they stress the hospital system, they stress public health systems, they stress the economic systems.” “In many cases, what WHO had been witnessing across society is a lack of resilience.”
WHO emphasised the importance of trust and proper communication between the government and citizens of the nation in dealing with COVID-19 outbreak.