Recommendations include keeping Covid-19 in surveillance
WHO in May declared that Covid is no longer a global health emergency
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued standing recommendations on Covid-19 urging countries to remain vigilant as the virus continues to circulate and mutate despite being declared “no longer a pandemic”.
The recommendations include keeping Covid-19 in surveillance and integrating that with other respiratory infections such as influenza, and refraining from any unilateral travel-related restrictions or health measures, including requirements for testing or vaccination.
“After this withdrawal of the pandemic, countries should have some mechanisms in place to prevent any future outbreaks or surge of the disease. The standing recommendations will guide them what they should actually do,” Prof Mahmudur Rahman, an expert member of the WHO’s panel that made the decision, told Dhaka Tribune.
“It’s not that they (countries) will just stop since the pandemic is over. They have to keep mechanisms to be able to respond immediately if it takes a different turn. The standing recommendation will keep them ready and vigilant. If they follow this, they will be able to understand the changes,” Prof Rahman, country director of the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network (EMPHNET), said.
He was the only Bangladeshi who sat in the 20-member experts’ panel of the WHO Director General’s International Health Regulations (IHR) Review Committee for Standing Recommendations for Covid-19 and Monkeypox.
They finalized the recommendations on August 9. Those recommendations are in effect for all State Parties of the WHO from August 9 until April 30, 2025, or until further decision.
The WHO in May declared that Covid is no longer a global health emergency or pandemic. But it has warned that the virus will continue to circulate and mutate, causing occasional spikes in infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
A new “variant of interest” has already been detected. In its weekly update, WHO said that the number of new cases reported worldwide rose by 80 percent in July. In 24 hours between 8am of Thursday and 8am of Friday, the Bangladesh government confirmed 20 new cases.
What are in the standing recommendations?
During the public health emergency of international concern associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, from January 2020 to May 2023, countries’ response efforts were guided by temporary recommendations issued under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR).
In the current transitional phase, countries’ preparedness and response actions can be guided by standing recommendations, issued under the IHR.
The standing recommendations are aimed at supporting the countries strengthening their infectious disease prevention and control programs with the goal of reducing disease burden from Covid-19 and preparing for a possible worsening situation caused by new variants of the virus.
The key points include: Incorporate lessons learnt from national and subnational evaluations of the Covid-19 response into Covid-19 related plans and policies.
Sustain national and subnational capacities, as appropriate, for preparedness, prevention, and response for Covid-19.
These capacities may include multi-source surveillance, risk assessment, testing and sequencing capacities, infection prevention and control, clinical management, planning and delivery of mass gathering events, risk communication and community engagement, infodemic management, public health and social measures, and access to and use of medical countermeasures.
Based on the current Covid-19 epidemiological situation, the recommendation also asked countries to refrain from any unilateral travel-related restrictions or health measures, including requirements for testing or vaccination, and lift any such remaining measures to avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.
It also recommended countries to continue to restore health programmes adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Countries are recommended to sustain collaborative surveillance for Covid-19, in order to provide a basis for situational awareness and risk assessment and the detection of significant changes in virus characteristics, virus spread, disease severity and population immunity.
Incorporate information from different Covid-19 monitoring systems to ensure detection of early warning signals and prepare to scale up and adapt systems, as needed.
Keep the Covid-19 in surveillance and integrate that with other respiratory infections such as influenza, where applicable, to provide baselines relative to other circulating viruses.
WHO urged the countries to report Covid-19 burden and impact data including hospitalization, Intensive Care Units, and mortality data to WHO or publish the data.
States Parties are recommended to continue to offer Covid-19 vaccination. Vaccine delivery should be appropriately integrated into health services.
Countries are recommended to continue to initiate, support, and collaborate on research to generate evidence for Covid-19 prevention and control, with a view to reduce the disease burden of Covid-19.
They are also encouraged to continue to deliver optimal clinical care for Covid-19, appropriately integrated into all levels of health services, including access to proven treatments and measures to protect health workers and caregivers as appropriate.
Countries are encouraged to continue to work towards ensuring equitable access to safe, effective and quality-assured medical countermeasures for Covid-19.
Source: Dhaka Tribune.