• World Health Organization media briefing, 1 June.
  • COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly in Central and South America.
  • Coronavirus has disrupted treatment of non-communicable diseases around the globe.
  • New Ebola outbreak shows the range of other health threats that must be tackled during the pandemic.

As COVID-19 cases top 6 million worldwide, World Health Organization (WHO) officials discussed the virus’ impact to the Americas as well a range of other health threats adding pressure to health systems around the world.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

Central and South America ‘intense zones of transmission’

Five of the 10 countries reporting the highest number of new cases are currently in the Americas, said Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

While health systems in countries such as Brazil, the United States, Peru, Chile and Mexico are coming under pressure, there has been a “progressive increase in cases across a range of different countries”.

The WHO is particularly worried about countries with weakened health systems, such as Haiti. Additionally, Ryan said countries in Central and South America will need special support as they have become “intense zones of transmission for the virus".

Response in these countries is hampered by a range of complex factors, said Ryan, including the number of people living in urban settings and the number of urban poor. Said Ryan, we “haven’t reached the peak” in those zones.

“Clearly the situation in many South American countries is far from stable,” said Ryan.

New Ebola outbreak

A new outbreak of Ebola was detected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, near Mbandaka, Équateur province, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. According to a statement by the WHO, this is the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 11th outbreak of Ebola since the virus was first discovered in the country in 1976.

“This outbreak is a reminder that coronavirus is not the only health threat people face,” said the Director-General.

Treatment of diabetes, hypertension and more disrupted around the globe

Treatment for non-communicable diseases has been greatly affected by COVID-19, according to a a WHO survey released today. The survey, completed by 155 countries during a three-week period in May, found that while this impact has been seen around the world, low-income countries have been hit hardest.

The survey, conducted by the WHO, showed that more than half of the countries polled experienced partially or fully disrupted services for hypertension treatment. Countries also reported disruptions in other diseases, including 49% in the treatment for diabetes, 42% for cancer treatment and 31% for cardiovascular emergencies.

Non-communicable diseases were included in many countries’ COVID-19 response plans, but not all: 72% of high-income countries accounted for these diseases in their plans compared to 42% of low-income countries.

Many countries pivoted to care alternatives during the pandemic. Among those seeing disruptions, 58% of countries around the world leveraged telemedicine, including 42% of low-income countries.

Antimicrobial resistance the 'most urgent challenge of our time'

New data shows that a “worrying” number of bacterial infections are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment. “The world is losing its ability to use antimicrobial medication,” said the Director-General.

While some high-income countries are at risk of overusing these medications, such products are out of reach altogether in other countries. The situation is complicated by market failures in the development of new antibiotics and microbial agents.

In past briefings, WHO officials have discussed that antibiotics are not always profitable in the wider marketplace and, as a result, many makers have struggled to survive or have gone bankrupt in recent years.

Solving this problem will be complex, explained Professor Hana H. Balkhy, Assistant Director-General. Antimicrobial resistance must be addressed in a customized, multi-sectorial fashion unique to each country's needs. Additionally, future solutions must address ways to improve hygiene so antimicrobials don’t replace proper hygiene.