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Health News

Countries must return to public health surveillance in COVID-19 fight: WHO's Ryan

ZURICH (Reuters) - Countries must return to “basic principles” of public health surveillance if they are to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top emergency health expert said on Friday.

The WHO, which said it is facing a $1.3 billion funding deficit for its effort to tackle COVID-19, issued the call for more surveillance as many countries including the United States, Switzerland, Mexico and Germany have turned their efforts toward re-opening economies battered by the pandemic.

Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said during a media briefing from Geneva that all nations should focus on the fundamentals of the global coronavirus fight: scouting potential new infections, hunting them down, confirming them and then separating those afflicted, to save others from the disease.

“We seem...to be avoiding the uncomfortable reality that we need to get back to public health surveillance,” Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said during a media briefing. “We need to go back to where we should have been months ago -- finding cases, tracking cases, testing cases, isolating people who are tested positive, doing quarantine for contacts.”

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ concerns over a funding crunch come after U.S. President Donald Trump last month told his administration to temporarily halt funding to the United Nations health agency. U.S. officials are demanding a WHO overhaul, saying it mishandled the coronavirus crisis.

WHO’s Ryan on Friday urged nations to stick together as the disease spreads from country to country, sometimes at different rates and with wide swings in death tolls. Ryan highlighted how Russia appears to be dealing with a “delayed epidemic” as a spike in confirmed new infections in recent days has catapulted it past France and Germany in total number of cases.

“Through solidarity we will win the fight and nobody is safe until everybody is safe”, Ryan said. “There is a path out, but we must remain ever-vigilant, and we may have to have a significant alteration of our lifestyles until we get to a point where we have an effective vaccine.”

There has been a slew of news in recent days about vaccine candidates, including announcements that tests in humans have begun with some trials expected by summer, though experts have warned a successful preventative treatment may still be many months away.

Reporting by Michael Shields and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, editing by John Miller

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