It is hard to predict when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will end, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Al-Mandhari said that the region has recently reported a slight decrease in the number of cases. These occurred in the countries that have developed an exit strategy and have started lifting restrictions, including easing of curfews and airport closures.
He noted that lifting physical distancing measures without careful planning is likely to lead to an uncontrolled resurgence in virus transmission and an amplified second wave of cases. Other contributing factors to this include an absence of scaled up public health and clinical care capacities.
“The WHO bears the ethical responsibility for the entire population of the world, particularly the countries that are facing challenging with the appearance of the virus such as Syria, Libya and Yemen,” Al-Mandhari said, adding, “In these countries the warfare years have weakened health systems, shortages in health workers, and limited access to even the most basic medical care services.”
Al-Mandhari also said, “Yemen’s health system is fragile and the emergence of COVID-19 could be catastrophic – overwhelming already ravaged hospitals, health facilities and health care workers.”
He added that in Yemen, over 13 million people a month are dependent on food assistance, 2.5 million children under 5 require nutritional support, and 8.8 million require health care. This makes the population in Yemen making them more susceptible to contracting infectious diseases, including the coronavirus, due to compromised immune systems.
Al-Mandhari added that armed fighting continues south Libya’s capital, Tripoli, where residents continue to be affected by severe water shortages. The fighting is impeding the WHO’s work to protect innocent people risks, including the coronavirus.
The WHO official added that Syria’s economic difficulties due to war and sanctions means that the coronavirus cases are likely to increase in the coming weeks. This is down to slow testing levels, delays in detection, isolation and contract tracing.
Al-Mandhari said the WHO has limited information on whether patients who have contracted the coronavirus and recovered have immunity. He noted that there is currently no evidence that a serological test can show an individual’s immunity.
He added that the WHO is working with researchers to accelerate the development of vaccines and therapeutics for the pandemic.
“More than 80 vaccines are in development globally, including six vaccines in clinical evaluation, and several therapeutics are in clinical trials,” he said.