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Despite Worrying Figures, WHO Says Middle East Can Still Contain Coronavirus

Despite Worrying Figures, WHO Says Middle East Can Still Contain Coronavirus

Tuesday, 7 April, 2020 - 17:15
Horsemen ride past a sand sculpture along a beach in Gaza City, reading in Arabic 'Corona #StayHome'. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Most Middle Eastern countries are seeing worrying daily increases in cases of the new coronavirus but the region still has a chance to contain its spread, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday.

The WHO has confirmed more than 77,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths in its Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Djibouti, as well as Middle Eastern states, but does not include Turkey.

About 78% of those cases are in Iran, with all other countries having fewer than 4,000 cases, and most fewer than 1,000, said Richard Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director.

The death rate in the region was similar to that globally and there have been encouraging signs of new cases in Iran flattening off in recent days, though other states were still at risk of an escalation, Brennan told a media briefing in Cairo.

“Of all the other countries, in most instances we are seeing still a concerning rise in the number of cases day after day,” he said.

“We really do need a comprehensive approach to the way we scale up the proven public health measures such as the early detection, such as the early testing, the isolation of patients who have the disease.”

Many countries in the region are suffering from the effects of conflict and political crises, raising concerns about their ability to cope with the new coronavirus.

International agencies have raised particular concern over millions of refugees and internally displaced people, and have cautioned that the closure of borders can make the delivery of assistance harder.

In Sudan, the United Nations appealed on Tuesday for the government to facilitate provision of humanitarian access to more than 6 million people this year by fast-tracking access for medical and humanitarian workers.

“If not properly coordinated, aid delivery may be delayed or fail to go ahead as a consequence of COVID-19,” Gwi Yeop Son, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, said in a statement.

Shortage of health workers

The WHO also warned of a shortage of health workers in the Eastern Mediterranean region and said underreporting of coronavirus cases remains a challenge.

"We need health workers to be mobilized to ensure their availability to meet shortages," Ahmed al-Mandhari, WHO's Eastern Mediterranean director, told an online press conference from Cairo.

"We also need to protect health workers... to prevent and control infections and provide them with the required personal protection equipment," he said.

Mandhari noted a sharp decline in nurses and midwives in the region and urged investments to plug the gap.

WHO says the world is facing a global nursing shortage and needs another six million nurses in the profession.

Hospitals and health workers in the region and across the globe have been overstretched to deal with the virus outbreak.

Egypt and several other countries in the region have reported infections among medics.

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