New Delhi: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is developing a master plan to coordinate clinical trials to tackle the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in China, the starting point of the outbreak.
Officials at the apex health agency on Thursday said they are studying natural history of the virus, its transmission and diagnosis, conducting animal and environmental research on the origin of the virus including measures at the human-animal interface and epidemiological studies.
The WHO also plans to study clinical characterisation and management of the disease caused by the virus, infection prevention and control including ways to protect health care workers.
“WHO is now developing a master plan for coordinating clinical trials and ensuring they are done coherently and consistently. We’re also doing deeper investigations to identify the source of this virus and to prevent further transmission from animals to humans," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general at the organisation.
“The leading research finders will start work immediately on the most pressing questions. Some of these issues include easy to apply diagnostics, the best approaches for infection prevention, potential therapies that could be used to treat patients, existing vaccine candidates and how to accelerate them and how to address the infodemic," Adhanom added.
WHO has already said it is aggressively working towards research and development for candidate therapeutics and vaccines.
Though there are many unanswered questions related to coronavirus, the sudden spike in number of new patients in mainland China has fuelled concerns over the actual situation in the country.
According to WHO, China reported 1,820 laboratory-confirmed cases in the 24 hours ended Thursday, bringing the total to 46,550. In addition, China reported 13,332 clinically-confirmed cases in Hubei province, which is believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak.
Chinese health authorities said the sudden rise is due to inclusion of clinically-diagnosed cases in Hubei. This means that people have shown clinical symptoms of the new disease, but are yet to be tested positive.
“We understand that most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself. So this increase that you’ve all seen in the last 24 hours is largely down to a change in how cases are being diagnosed and reported," said Michael Ryan, executive director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
“So, in other words, in Hubei province only, a trained medical professional can now classify a suspected case of COVID-19 as a clinically-confirmed case on the basis of chest imaging, rather than having to have a laboratory confirmation. This allows clinicians to move and report cases more quickly, not having to wait for lab confirmation, ensuring that people get to clinical care more quickly, and also allows public health responses in terms of contact tracing and other important public health measures to be initiated," Ryan added.
He also explained that there are some backlogs in testing and this will help ensure that people get adequate care.
“So we are not dealing, from what we understand, with a spike in cases of 14,000 on one day," Ryan said.
Apart from Hubei, rest of China and the world need laboratory confirmation for reporting, WHO said.
Outside China, there are 447 cases in 24 countries and two deaths. There has been one death each in The Philippines and Japan.
“We’ve seen this spike in the number of cases reported in China, but this does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak," said Ryan.