WHO spurs Mideast to use its advantage in pandemic fight
Cairo: The World Health Organization is urging Middle East and North African governments to "seize the opportunity" to combat the coronavirus while numbers of cases in the region are still relatively low.
"We have to seize the opportunity to act in the region because the rise in cases was not so rapid," Yvan Hutin, director of the communicable diseases department at WHO's Eastern Mediterranean office in Cairo, told AFP in an interview.
In the region at large, which for WHO stretches to Afghanistan, around 111,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded and more than 5,500 deaths.
That accounts for a small proportion of the more than two million cases and over 140,000 deaths declared worldwide from the pandemic.
The exception is Iran, the hardest hit in the region and where the official toll stands at 78,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths.
Hutin said it is hard to pinpoint a specific reason for the discrepancy.
"There may be demographic factors at play because we are dealing with youthful populations" in the region, he said, referring to the heavier death toll from COVID-19 among the elderly.
In conflict-ridden countries or "emergency situations" such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, low numbers have been reported.
But according to the epidemiologist, "just because we avoided a difficult situation the first time around, that doesn't mean that it will stay like this".
In Egypt, where Hutin led an assessment team last month, "it is clear that we have more transmissions now than a few weeks ago. But it still hasn't reached an exponentially proliferating rate of transmission". - AFP