WHO warns of global shortage of medical equipment to fight virus

March 04, 2020 10:35
The coronavirus causes more severe illness than flu but it can be contained, WHO chief  Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says. Photo: Reuters

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned of a global shortage and price gouging for protective equipment to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus, Reuters reports.

The UN health body asked companies and governments to increase production of protective gear by 40 percent as the death toll from the respiratory illness mounts, the report said.

About 3.4 percent of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have died, far above seasonal flu’s fatality rate of under 1 percent, but the virus can be contained, the WHO chief said on Tuesday.

“To summarize, COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.

Health officials have said the death rate is 2 percent to 4 percent depending on the country and may be much lower if there are thousands of unreported mild cases of the disease.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold, N95 respirators have tripled in cost and protective gowns cost twice as much, the WHO said.

It estimates healthcare workers each month will need 89 million masks, 76 million gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles.

The coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has spread around the world, with more new cases now appearing outside China than inside.

There are almost 91,000 cases globally of which more than 80,000 are in China. China’s death toll was 2,946, with more than 166 fatalities elsewhere.

In Iran, doctors and nurses lack supplies and 77 people have died, one of the highest numbers outside China.

WHO officials also expressed concerns about the situation in Iran, saying doctors lack respirators and ventilators needed for patients with severe cases.

Michael Ryan, head of the WHO's emergency program, said the need in Iran was “more acute” than for other countries.

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