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Source: United Nations (Video News)

WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said the COVID-19 pandemic hurt momentum on polio and measles and stressed the need to “turn the tide quickly and ensure no child is left behind.”

Speaking via teleconference at a press conference in Geneva today (06 Nov), Dr Tedros said immunization efforts were suspended as a result of the pandemic leaving “children, especially in high-risk areas, more vulnerable to killer diseases like polio, measles and pneumonia.” He said outbreaks of these diseases were starting, adding that the WHO and UNICEF were jointly launching “an emergency appeal to rapidly boost measles and polio vaccination.”

Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said millions of health workers and others have worked for decades to bring measles under control and try to eradicate polio. He added, “The appeal today being launched by WHO and UNICEF is close to the heart of so many national and international health workers. We’ve got so close in polio eradication. We’re getting closer in measles though we’ve taken a few steps back. We need to reignite immunization as a primary measure within primary health care. It is absolutely vital we don’t potentially win a battle against COVID and lose the battle against polio or measles at the same time.”

Dr Tedros said as the pandemic unfolds, “as countries have reflected, they have used intra-action reviews to make their responses stronger.” He said an Intra-Action Review uses a whole-of-society, multi-sectoral approach, acknowledging the contributions of all relevant stakeholders involved in COVID-19 preparedness and response at the national and sub-national levels. He added, “By reviewing and adapting the current preparedness and response strategies and identifying what is working well and what needs to be strengthened, the review gives countries the opportunity to change the trajectory of the pandemic.”

Turning to the recent discovery of a mutation in the coronavirus among minks in Denmark, WHO’s COVID-19 Technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said each mutation, “whether they’re identified in mink or they’re identified in humans need to be evaluated because we need to determine the importance of each of these and if any of these changes means that the virus behaves differently.” She said, “There’s a proper way to do that because there needs to be studies to evaluate if there’s any changes in transmissibility or severity, and if there are any implications for diagnostics, for vaccines and for therapeutics.” Van Kerkhove said there is a suggestion that “some of these mutations may have some implications” in this situation but stressed the need to do the proper studies to evaluate this.

Dr Van Kerkhove said Denmark was taking steps to limit the spill over of the virus and making sure that the minks are culled.

Dr Ryan said Danish authorities are looking at all the evidence and “making decisions in real time.” He said WHO would continue to work with the scientific community to understand the implications of the findings “but in the meantime, the Danish authorities have to base their actions on the extent of the virus within that mink population, the bio risk management available around that population and concerns around any health impact in humans. And as we said, we’ve already seen a number of cases on the human side of the equation.”