Global Risks

WHO ‘especially worried’ over Central and South America; hydroxycholoroquine trial resumes - WHO briefing

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC2R9F9133SB

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse - RC2R9F9133SB

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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COVID-19

  • World Health Organization held a media briefing on 3 June, to update the public on the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
  • Clinical trial of hydroxycholoroquine resumed.
  • Intense spread continues in Central and South America.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said at a briefing Wednesday it would resume its trial of hydroxychloroquine, while expressing continued concern over the rise of COVID-19 coronavirus cases in the Americas.

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Hydroxychloroquine study can resume

The hydroxychloroquine section of the WHO's Solidarity Trial can resume after being paused temporarily on 25 May. The trial’s Data Safety and Monitoring Committee had halted the study as a precaution in response to safety concerns raised by an observational study published in the Lancet.

The Data Safety Monitoring Board’s review has been completed, and today WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that given the current mortality data available, there was no reason to discontinue the hydroxychloroquine arm of the international trial.

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The WHO said the review highlights the importance of randomized trials, especially in emergency situations such as COVID-19, to understand which drugs or strategies could reduce illness. “Observational studies have limitations,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist. “You can do analysis, but there are so many potential biases in the way that patients are managed in a clinical setting that the only way to get definite answers is to be when conducted randomized trials.”

Vigilance key, pandemic “far from over”
While cases have begun to decline in certain parts of Europe, the virus is “far from over.” In fact, as the Director-General explained in a statement, more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported to the WHO for each of the past five days.

One key danger, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead, is complacency. “people grow tired,” she explained. “It's very difficult to keep up all of these measures. In some situations, these public health and social measures may need to be reintroduced again. And that may frustrate people. And that, in a sense, could make the virus more dangerous because people become complacent.”

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Continued worries over the Americas

Thanks to rapid spread, the Americas continue to account for the the lion’s share of new cases, said the Director-General. “The number of cases reported each day in the Americas has been more than the rest of the world put together.”

While numbers are rising in regions such as the Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asia and Africa, the WHO said it is “especially worried” about Central and South America.

Brazil currently has more than 553,000 cases, the second-highest in the world. Cases in countries such as Peru are also growing quickly.

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