The World Health Organization has expressed concern at the Covid-19 situation in China, even as another challenging year from the point of view of health, comes to a close.

“In order to make a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation on the ground, WHO needs more detailed information on disease severity, hospital admissions and requirements for ICU support,” WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, expressing concern at the evolving ground situation and increasing reports of severe disease.

Related Stories
Mask up, say health officials as Covid fears mount
Paul’s statements come even as senior officials of Union Ministry of Health attended a review meeting chaired by Union Health Minister, Mansukh Mandaviya

Three years ago, almost to the month, reports emerged from China on what later came to be known as SARS-CoV-2 (that causes the Covid-19 infection). But the origins of this virus remain unclear, and the WHO chief alluded to it at his briefing, possibly the last, this year.

The curious case of China’s Covid-19
With Covid-19 sweeping through the country, it remains to be seen how China will handle the situation. Watch this video to know more. 

The WHO has called on China “to share the data and conduct the studies we have requested, and which we continue to request. As I have said many times before, all hypotheses about the origins of this pandemic remain on the table,” he said.

On the challenges this year for health, he outlined, “The third year of the Covid-19 pandemic; a global outbreak of mpox (earlier known as monkey pox); an Ebola outbreak in Uganda; wars in Ethiopia and Ukraine; cholera outbreaks in multiple countries; drought and flooding in the greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel; flooding in Pakistan; and numerous other health emergencies.”

However, pointing to data that gave reason to be hopeful, he said, “The Covid-19 pandemic has declined significantly this year, the global monkeypox outbreak is waning, and there have been no cases of Ebola in Uganda for more than three weeks. We are hopeful that each of these emergencies will be declared over at different points next year.”

Uncertainties and gaps

Since the peak in late January, the number of weekly reported Covid-19 deaths has dropped almost 90 per cent, he said, adding there were still many uncertainties and gaps to say the pandemic is over.

Related Stories
3 cases of Omicron subvariant BF.7 detected in India so far
The BF.7 strain, which is apparently driving China’s current surge of Covid cases, was detected in October by Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre

“Gaps in surveillance, testing and sequencing mean we do not understand well enough how the virus is changing; Gaps in vaccination mean that millions of people – especially health workers and older people – remain at high risk of severe disease and death; Gaps in treatment mean people are dying needlessly; Gaps in health systems leave them unable to cope with surges in patients with Covid-19, flu and other diseases; Gaps in our understanding of post-Covid-19 condition mean we do not understand how best to treat people suffering with the long-term consequences of infection, and gaps in our understanding of how this pandemic began compromise our ability to prevent future pandemics.”

Political will

Responding to a query, he said, political commitment to health, would be a key challenge in the coming year.

But there were learnings from the earlier year, he said, in that a new Pandemic Fund has been created; and nations have committed to negotiating a legally binding accord on pandemic preparedness and response. An mRNA Technology Transfer Hub had been established in South Africa, to give low- and lower-middle-income countries the know-how to rapidly-produce their own mRNA vaccines.

Related Stories
Maharashtra to form task force for monitoring Covid-related developments
Leader of the Opposition Ajit Pawar cautioned the State government about taking precautions against the backdrop of the Covid-19 outbreak in China and other countries

On mpox, he said, over 83,000 cases had been reported from 110 countries, although the mortality rate remained low, with 66 deaths. Similarly, with no new cases since the 27th of November, and no patients being treated at the moment, the countdown to the end of the Ebola outbreak in Uganda has begun, he added.

Attacks on health

In 2022, WHO verified more than 1,000 attacks on health in 16 countries, with 220 deaths and 436 injuries, he said, adding, “Attacks on health are a violation of international humanitarian law, and a violation of human rights. They deprive people of care when they need it most.”

On the other disrupted services, he pointed to routine immunisation, which saw the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in 30 years. About 25 million children had missed out on life-saving vaccinations, and catching up was a priority, he said.

The year is a landmark one for the future of WHO, he said, as member states committed to increasing membership fees – to 50 percent of the base budget over the next decade, from just 16 per cent now.