Thursday, December 5, 2013

WHO Recommends No Changes to MERS Health Regulations

MERS: Not a Public Health Emergency
of International Concern
The World Health Organization held the fourth International Health Regulatons (IHR) Emergency Committee concerning the MERS-CoV by teleconference on December 4.

Members heard from representatives from the recently affected countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Spain, as well as two 'expert advisers' specializing in camel diseases and crisis communications.

The WHO Secretariat updated members on new epidemiological information on progression of the disese and clusters and scientific evidence including detection of MERS in camels. State representatives presented information on recent cases in their countries.

The Saudi government was praised for its 'preparation, surveillance and management' of millions of visitors during the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

After some discussion, the Committee felt that, "Based on a risk assessment of current information, it was the unanimous decision of the Committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have not at present been met."

They concluded there was no reason to change their advice to the Secretary General regarding international health regulations. They reinforced previous advice regarding MERS testing, tracking and information sharing. They recommend,

  • "strengthening surveillance, including in countries with pilgrims;
  • continuing to increase awareness and effective risk communication concerning MERS-CoV;
  • supporting countries that are particularly vulnerable, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, taking into account the regional challenges;
  • increasing relevant diagnostic testing capacities;
  • continuing with investigative work, including identifying the source of the virus and relevant exposures through case-control studies and other research;
  • timely sharing of information in accordance with the International Health Regulations (2005) and ongoing active coordination with WHO."

They also emphasized the need for,

  • "investigative studies, including international case-control, serological, environmental, and animal-human interface studies, to better understand risk factors and the epidemiology;
  • further review and strengthening of such tools as standardized case definitions and surveillance and further emphasis on infection control and prevention."

The committee suggested they may reconvene in March of 2014 unless serious developments require members to meet before then.

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