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WHO to Asharq Al-Awsat: Work Underway on Coexistence Strategy for Coronavirus

WHO to Asharq Al-Awsat: Work Underway on Coexistence Strategy for Coronavirus

Thursday, 20 January, 2022 - 06:15
WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari, Asharq Al-Awsat

The World Health Organization (WHO) is working on a strategy to coexist with the pandemic during the coming months, revealed WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ahmed Al-Mandhari.

Al-Mandhari told Asharq Al-Awsat that more than 15 million coronavirus infections had been reported worldwide within a week. Although the figure is the highest reported since the pandemic outbreak, Al-Mandhari believes it is lower than the actual number of cases.

He explained that this massive rise in infections is driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing the Delta variant in all countries. Omicron has so far appeared in 149 countries out of the six world regions.

“The critical phase of the pandemic, characterized by the tragedies of deaths and hospitalizations, could end in 2022, and in the coming months, we will work on developing a strategy for coexistence with the coronavirus in our region,” said Al-Mandhari.

“This will not eliminate the virus, but we can control it enough to live with it, as we do with the seasonal flu virus and other common viruses,” he added.

“Right now, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Our priority is saving lives using all available tools proven to be effective.”

“We know that people are tired, but we must prepare and anticipate this virus and not allow it to lead us one step further,” affirmed the WHO official.

According to Al-Mandhari, several countries inside and outside Africa suffer from weak infrastructure and a fragile health system, as well as the repercussions of wars, conflicts, and health emergencies.

All these factors combined played into depriving African countries and many countries under similar circumstances of obtaining access to their vaccination needs or successfully completing the vaccination process.

“Vaccine inequality, and health inequality in general, were the biggest failures of the past year. Unfortunately, through low vaccination rates, we have created the ideal conditions for new variants to emerge,” said Al-Mandhari.

“To remedy this situation, we must support these countries to help them achieve vaccination goals. Stopping the spread of the virus and avoiding the emergence of new mutations depends on our need to achieve herd immunity through access to high levels of vaccination,” he explained.

With the infection rate on the rise, Al-Mandhari recommended that countries increase the availability of free and easy rapid diagnostic test options that provide high levels of accuracy with the added advantage of being less expensive and less time-consuming than PCR tests.

“It remains a key priority to support and equip frontline health workers, they have been overworked over the past two years, but their role is still critical,” said Al-Mandhari.

“It is necessary to work to improve the preparedness of hospitals and increase their capacity to deal with the increasing number of cases.”

Regarding challenges expected in 2022, Al-Mandhari said: “We are on the cusp of the third year of the pandemic, and we are still fighting a full battle against this virus, despite new tools such as vaccines and treatments.”

“Inequity in the distribution of vaccines, hesitation in taking them, and low levels of adherence to public health and social measures are all challenges we have faced in the past two years and have given the virus a chance to advance again.”

“We will face the same challenges this year, and the consequences may be more severe due to the new variant,” warned Al-Mandhari.

As for Saudi Arabia, Al-Mandhari confirmed that the Kingdom continues to exert maximum efforts to curb the spread of the pandemic. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is looking to raise the level of vaccination rollout so that it covers most residents.

According to the WHO official, the Kingdom is one of the countries that have achieved its target vaccination rate.

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