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MERS virus not yet an emergency, says WHO

Publication Date : 16-05-2014


The growing international concern over the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) does not as yet warrant the declaration of a public health emergency, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The conditions for a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) have not yet been met, said WHO in a statement released after the fifth meeting of the WHO emergency committee.

“Based on current information, the committee indicated that the seriousness of the situation had increased in terms of public health impact, but that there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission,” it said.

Still, the WHO emergency committee stressed that the situation is already a cause for concern since infections have “significantly increased".

The multilateral health organisation has already recorded a total of 496 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV since September 2012.

According to Department of Health spokesman Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, the Philippines remains MERS-CoV-free although they are closely monitoring the condition of overseas Filipino workers subjected to quarantine procedures after having been exposed to MERS-CoV patients.

The WHO stressed that it is prepared to reconvene the emergency committee by next month or “earlier, if circumstances require” based on the continuous updates they get.

“Concerns centered on the recent sharp rise in cases; systemic weaknesses in infection prevention and control, as well as gaps in critical information; and possible exportation of cases to especially vulnerable countries,” said the WHO.

Because of this, the WHO is urging member-states to take immediate steps, among which include improving national policies for infection prevention and control, and implementing them in health-care facilities in all countries.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has issued a medical alert for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) on MERS-CoV and polio.

Meanwhile, the POEA has strongly advised departing OFWs to get antipolio vaccines before going to their host countries.

The advisory was issued after WHO earlier declared an international public health emergency on polio.

“With the declaration of a polio outbreak in at least 10 countries, OFWs are strongly advised to get antipolio vaccinations prior to their departure from the Philippines for their respective job sites,” said POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac.

Last week, the WHO declared a PHEIC on polio after it noted a surge of cases in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.

The Philippines has been declared polio-free since October 2000.


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