The international community has launched a preparedness and response plan covering the months of February through to April 2020.
The Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for the new coronavirus lays out activities and resources needed by international health organizations globally, including WHO, to implement priority public health measures in support of countries to prepare and respond to nCoV-2019 for a period February-April 2020.
“My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted with the virus, even if it were to emerge," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
“Urgent support is needed to bolster weak health systems to detect, diagnose and care for people with the virus, to prevent further human to human transmission and protect health workers," he said.
The objectives of the SPRP are to limit human-to-human transmission of the virus, particularly in countries most vulnerable if they were to face an outbreak; identify, isolate and care for patients early; communicate critical risk and event information; minimize social and economic impact; reduce virus spread from animal sources; and address crucial unknowns.
The plan focuses on rapidly establishing international coordination and operational support, scaling up country readiness and response operations and accelerating priority research and innovation.
“The effectiveness of outbreak response depends on the preparedness measures put in place before outbreaks strike. That is why we are seeking resources to safeguard the most vulnerable countries to protect people from the new coronavirus before it arrives on the doorstep," said Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. "There are no proven effective therapeutics for novel coronavirus," said Ryan.
As noted in the SPRP, WHO assesses that the outbreak poses a very high risk in China, and high risk regionally and globally. The risk assessment was based on factors including the likelihood of further spread, the potential impact on human health, and the varying levels of effectiveness in national preparedness and response measures. Accelerated action, as called for in the plan, can address these risks and areas requiring support.
According to WHO, 25 countries have reported confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including China, where 24,363 people had contracted the virus, or over 99% of all cases. In all other countries, 191 cases have contracted the virus.
India has been taking preventive steps to stop coronavirus spread such as cancelling flights to China. India's ministry of health and family welfare has asked states to be alert to any possible case of the disease, while urging them to review their preparedness, identify gaps and strengthen core capacities needed to prepare for, detect and respond to possible outbreaks.
According to Indian Council of Medical Research, a total of 901 samples have been tested as on Wednesday. 403 are from the quarantine centres set up for the individuals evacuated from Wuhan, China. All the 403 tested are negative for (nCoV). 498 samples are referred from suspected cases throughout the country. Till date, 3 out of the 498 tested are confirmed laboratory positive for nCoV that are in Kerala.
“Government of India over the last decade has strengthened the surveillance and response system for catching disease outbreaks early. However, the implementation varies from state to state. While a state with good Health Infrastructure and Systems like Kerala was able to manage Nipah Outbreak well last year, a State like Bihar, on the other end of spectrum, could not manage an outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome (AES) in Muzaffarpur and the adjoining districts resulting in deaths of more than 150 children," said Himanshu Sikka, Chief Strategy & Diversification Officer and Lead – Health, IPE Global, an international development consulting company.
“Health emergency such as the Coronavirus (nCoV) is creating a panic today. While the country is responding swiftly to tackle health emergencies, there are a few key challenges such as laboratory systems across many states remain weak, which make it difficult to quickly and accurately diagnose at-threat populations. It is required bringing the private practitioners into disease surveillance network, who cater to a major section of its population. Weak communication around disease outbreaks and a low turnaround time to come up with do’s and dont’s when an outbreak happens," said Sikka.
India is a signatory to the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) that provides a framework to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats. As part of this, Government along with its partners is continuously working to build the health infrastructure in case of any health emergencies.
“Regular capacity development of its public heath workforce and frontline workers is required to handle outbreaks efficiently keeping in mind the globally accepted protocols. There is a need to invest and strengthen vaccine development capacities," said Sikka.