WHO Committee: MERS Not Yet an Emergency of International Concern

May 13’s decision took place at the fifth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee concerning Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. WHO's statement says the committee members did agree their concern about the situation has significantly increased, given the recent spike in cases.

The World Health Organization issued a statement May 14 saying that the Emergency Committee convened by the director-general to monitor the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) decided that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern have not yet been met. The situation has grown more serious, with a spike in cases since mid-March, but there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, according to the statement.

The committee's members met by teleconference May 13. Three expert advisors also participated in the discussion.

Representatives of 13 countries that have reported MERS cases or evidence of infection since December 2013 took part in the first part of the teleconference: Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, the United States, and Yemen. The WHO Secretariat provided an update and assessment of epidemiological and scientific developments, including the main observations of a WHO mission to Saudi Arabia that took place April 28-May 5.

The committee urged WHO and member states to take immediate steps to:

  • improve national policies for infection prevention and control and implement them in health care facilities in all countries; this is most urgent for affected countries
  • initiate and accelerate critical investigations, including case-control, serological, environmental, and animal studies, to better understand the epidemiology, especially risk factors and assess the effectiveness of control measures
  • support countries that are particularly vulnerable, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, taking into account the regional challenges
  • strengthen case and contact identification and management
  • greatly enhance awareness and effective risk communication concerning MERS-CoV to the general public, health professionals, at-risk groups, and policy makers
  • strengthen intersectoral collaboration and information sharing across ministries and with relevant international organizations, especially with the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • develop and disseminate advice regarding mass gatherings to prevent further spread of MERS-CoV
  • share information in a timely manner with WHO, in accordance with the International Health Regulations (2005)

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