Well-Being Prevention & Cures

What a WHO global health emergency for coronavirus means


Story at a glance

  • The declaration would give WHO the capabilities to help facilitate containment of the virus globally.
  • The PHEIC would allow WHO to put travel advisories in place.
  • At least 170 have died in China and more than 7,700 have been infected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Committee is meeting again to decide whether to declare the coronavirus outbreak that has left 170 dead and more than 7,700 infected a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). 

The declaration gives WHO certain capabilities to ramp up the response of governments and organizations around the globe who are rushing to contain the illness in several ways, including sending the message to the world that the outbreak is indeed a serious health emergency. 

The designation pushes nations to work together as much as they can to coordinate personnel, funds and other valuable resources. The declaration also helps in persuading residents in infected countries to abide by health and hygiene recommendations. 

When WHO’s Emergency Committee declares a PHEIC, it allows WHO to put travel advisories in place for cities, regions and countries, such as those used in outbreaks like the 2003 SARS epidemic. WHO also has the ability to review public health measures carried out by countries to ensure they are up to the proper health standards. 

WHO’s recommendations are not enforceable, but professor and director of the Center for Global Health and Science and Security at Georgetown University, Rebecca Katz, told Bloomberg News there is significant pressure for countries to abide by the advisories, as member states are bound by WHO’s 2005 International Health Regulations. 

The organization last week deliberated for two days on whether to make the declaration, but decided against it to gather more information. 

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference Wednesday that the human-to-human transmission outside of China “worries us.”

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