Editor’s Note: Austin is a student at the University of St. La Salle graduating this June. He is currently in his last five months as a junior intern in Corazon Locsin Montelibano Memorial Regional Hospital and will be working as a post-graduate intern in a private hospital here.
Hysteria, fear and panic.
These are things we should avoid in light of the current coronavirus outbreak.
It’s best we equip ourselves not only with protective gear and proper hygiene, but with correct information. The best way to combat any adversary is by knowing it, not fearing it.
We start by defining a PHEIC or Public Health Emergency of International Concern which has been formally declared by WHO for the 2019 nCOV.
It’s activated in the advent of “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States, through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”.
It designates a public health crisis of global or potentially global scale that is serious, unusual, or unexpected and needs a call to action.
There have only been six declarations of PHEIC since 2009. It was developed in 2005 after the SARS outbreak of 2002-03 in an attempt to make sure that such an event – if to happen again will be dealt with better, so as to avoid repeating the 774 death toll of the SARS outbreak.
The six events that were declared a PHEIC since then were as follows:
- 2009 H1N1 Swine Flue
- 2014 Polio declaration
- 2014 Ebola Outbreak
- 2015-16 Zika Virus Epidemic
- 2018 Kivu Ebola Epidemic
And the most recent is 2020 nCov outbreak.
Surprisingly the 2013 Mers Cov didn’t invoke PHEIC, but they reported this case because of its death toll and its potential to worsen
Prior to the WHO declaration, Emergency Committee meetings were held on 22 and 23 but nCOV was yet to be labeled an international emergency due to lack of data and that it was too early to avoid panic.
That’s the reason why these things are well thought of. Upon their second meeting on the 30th, 2020 however, PHEIC was declared.
This comes with data from the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China 12,167 suspected cases recorded as of 30 January.
Of these, 7711 are confirmed and 1370 of these are considered severe.
One hundred seventy people have died and the latest report as of 31 January the number has climbed to 213.
WHO also provided an overview of the numbers outside mainland China 83 cases in 18 countries seven of which had no travel history in China, with three confirmed cases of human to human contact, in which one is severe.
We have one confirmed case in the Philippines with 31 patients under investigation.
First, and I would really like to emphasize on this, PHEICs are declared in order for the global community to be informed and is not a call to panic, scream and shout.
This means that the global community has joined forces to combat this extraordinary health threat – to put in perspective, hundreds of thousands of people die each year to diseases we are very familiar of. In this context, disease agents that trigger PHEIC declaration are either new with relatively little data on it, develops fast with a potential to cover a global scale. In contrast, PHEIC is also declared with an old disease entity on the verge of eradication but seemingly reappearing as is the case of polio.
With this in mind these outbreaks are being studied as we speak and it does take time for more info to be released due to the fact that it takes time for viruses to be traced, cultured etc.
The 2009’s swine flu was studied past its active years with new things discovered, including a surprising 2013 study that it’s magnitude was actually only as big as seasonal influenza, making it’s PHEIC status controversial.
This is the importance of Research and Education which is still an understatement to this day and age.
PHEICs are also lifted when there is enough data and the disease agent is contained to a level that’s not threatening anymore, such was the case of the Zika Virus.
On the other hand, PHEICs are not lifted / extended when the cases are ongoing or worsening, such as the 2014 Polio – extended indefinitely for now (2019-2020).
Philippines continue to deal with Polio as new cases have been appearing possibly due to a decrease in vaccinations, and I won’t fail to mention a possible contributory factor but FUN FACT! Dengue was never a PHEIC, the Dengvaxia vaccine was never a global problem. Only in the Philippines was it so heavily politicized that it still continues to echo till this day. And that’s an example of one of the worst cases to happen when information is abused and misinformation stems from the state.
To cap this:
The committee in WHO emphasized that the declaration of a PHEIC for nCOV should be seen in the spirit of support and appreciation for China, its people, and the actions that China has taken in the frontlines of this outbreak, with transparency, and it is to be hoped, with success.
There’s allegedly an increase in prejudiced attacks and political agendas amidst this event that will never help and has the potential to worsen the problem. It is therefore imperative that we as individuals help instead in calling this out or to make sure that the information we are taking and sharing from are from legitimate sources.
We at DNX make sure that we publish verified information from official and refutable sources. For more information on how to combat the virus, look no further than WHO and DOH and their health advisories.