Editorial: Precautions over a mysterious virus

WE WELCOME 2020 with a bang but not in a good way. Fire is raging in Australia, Taal Volcano is on the verge of possibly having a big eruption, and a mysterious virus has originated from Wuhan, China.

In report by the Associated Press, some 300 cases have been identified with 260 cases in Wuhan, according to Chinese officials. Cases in other Chinese cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, total around 30. A few cases have been confirmed in South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.

“Any outbreak of an undetermined disease prompts concern across Asia and beyond, and memories remain strong of the 2003 outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and bird flu, which infected thousands, killed hundreds and sparked massive disruption to global travel and trade,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Kasai said the Western Pacific region has always been recognized as hot spot for diseases.

“In fact, two of the last four influenza pandemics began in the Western Pacific Region -- home to 1.9 billion people and a hot spot for outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases and natural disasters. These were threats that put people’s health and safety and economic development at risk,” Kasai said.

While Kasai assured that lessons learned from the past disease outbreaks in the region will help nations deal with another outbreak, he said “we are not completely safe.”

“Our surveillance teams identify, on average, two disease outbreak events every week, and the context in which these events occur is far more complex than before, due to rapid urbanization and dramatic increases in the movement of people and goods,” Kasai said.

He added climate change also poses a challenge in the region when it comes to diseases.

“Climate change has increased the frequency and impact of natural disasters and expanded the geographic reach of epidemic-prone diseases. As a result, the region is being impacted by diseases, such as MERS and yellow fever, that seemed unlikely just a few years ago,” Kasai said.

However, there is hope. Kasai nations in the Western Pacific Region are able to strengthen their systems to handle health threats. He said it is important for countries to strengthen their disease surveillance systems, decision-making, communication, recognizing hot spot for diseases from animals, and collaboration and coordination with other nations and health organizations.

Here in the Philippines, we have to commend the Department of Health in how it handled the measles, dengue, and polio cases in 2019. We also have full trust in DOH in handling diseases that poses a threat to the health of the Filipinos. We commend that the agency has already taken initial steps in preventing the spread of the disease such us putting up a thermal scanner at the airports.

DOH, while doing great already, can still step it up in order to prevent diseases like these in the future.


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