Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization (WHO) health emergencies program, speaks at a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland on Feb. 13, 2020. (Xinhua/Chen Junxia)

Full team of WHO experts to arrive in China over weekend

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that all members of a WHO team of international experts are expected to arrive in China over the weekend to work with their Chinese colleagues against the novel coronavirus pneumonia.

A WHO advance team, which arrived in China on Tuesday, and their Chinese counterparts have finalized the scope of work and design of the mission, while the rest of the team will start arriving in China over the weekend, said Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, at a briefing in Geneva, without revealing more details.

Earlier, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the advance group was led by Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and a “veteran of past public health emergencies,” and the whole team will probably be made of 10 experts from around the world.

As part of the international cooperation and coordination against the virus COVID-19, a WHO-led global research and innovation forum on the control of the epidemic concluded on Wednesday, which set the most urgent priorities for the global scientific effort to curb the virus.

Ryan also told the briefing that the first and foremost of the priorities are the demands of frontline clinicians and public health workers in China, including the development of better frontline diagnostics in emergency rooms, and immediate needs for clinical trials of drugs, such as the standard antivirals that were used in the past against MERS and SARS, as well as some anti-HIV drugs.

However, it could still be weeks before the trials are set up and generate some good information so as to “give us a large number of observations and a much stronger indication as to whether those drugs are working,” he said.

Another urgent need has been the ability to do household studies and to develop a serology test that would “allow us to test populations to determine how many people in the population have been affected over time,” he said.

As for vaccines, the first of which would still need 18 months before wide use, Ryan called for “big decisions” from both private sectors and policy makers to invest in the development and to advance its process by driving innovation.