By Daniel Gaffney
The new coronavirus has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation.
On Thursday, the WHO declared an official emergency after cases of the potentially life-threatening virus had been found in every region of mainland China. The death toll currently stands at 170 in China, but the main concern for the WHO is the threat that the virus would have in less developed countries.
The WHO says that there has been 98 cases declared in 18 countries outside of China; including eight human-to-human infections in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States. Most of these cases have emerged from people who have recently travelled from Wuhan- the Chinese city where the outbreak began.
However, the WHO has made clear that the declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China’s reaction to the outbreak. Now that the declaration has been made, the WHO will be able to help low and middle income countries, facilitating their surveillance of the virus and preparing them for possible cases.
China’s reaction to the outbreak has been somewhat groundbreaking. The Chinese Government has built two new hospitals at rapid-speed. One 1000 bed hospital was opened after just 48-hours of construction.
Has the WHO Declared a Global Health Emergency Before?
Five Global Health Emergencies have previously been declared:
- Swine Flu, 2009- The Swine Flu virus spread across the world in 2009, killing 200,000 people. An emergency was declared so that the outbreak could be surveyed more effectively, and a response could be coordinated; including a vaccine.
- Polio, 2014- Although close to eradication, there was an outbreak in the winter of 2013. An emergency was declared in 2014 to prevent a setback in the progress that the WHO had made in eradicating the disease.
- Zika, 2016- The WHO declared Zika a public health emergency in 2016 after the disease spread rapidly through the Americas. Although for many Zika symptoms are mild, it can be dangerous for pregnant women and the emergency was called to spur urgent research.
- Ebola, 2014 & 2019- The deadly disease has been declared a health emergency on two occasions. The first lasted from August 2014 to March 2016, almost 30,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died in West Africa. The WHO cited “the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems” in affected countries as a reason for declaring the state of emergency. A second was declared last year as an outbreak spread in DR Congo.