As the number of cases of COVID-19 is still rising in many countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) is asking governments to continue with social distancing measures but also to dramatically increase the number of people tested. Without the data, the pandemic cannot be fought effectively, it says.
At a press conference on Monday, the director-general of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, commended governments and organizations for the social distancing measures being put in place, such as closing schools and canceling events. But he also urged countries to increase testing and contact tracing, which he called the backbone of the response. The aim is to identify and contain people that might be spreading the virus without knowing.
“As I keep saying, all countries must take a comprehensive approach but the most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission and to do that you must test and isolate,” Dr Tedros explained. “You cannot fight a fire blindfolded and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don't know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries; test, test, test.”
“Test every suspected case. If they test positive isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to two days before they developed symptoms and test those people too. Every day more tests are being produced to meet the global demand.”
The WHO has shipped 1.5 million tests to 120 countries across the globe and it continues to collaborate with private companies to increase the supply of tests. The organization is clear, identifying as many cases as possible and taking care of them in medical facilities if need be, or making sure they can be adequately taken care of at home, is paramount.
During the press briefing, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead for the WHO Health Emergencies Program, was asked about unreported cases of COVID-19 and she again stressed the importance of testing.
“Yes, there's no doubt that we are missing cases," Dr Kerkhove said. "I think we need to be realistic about this. The reason that we are so aggressive in our statements about finding all cases and testing cases is because we need to know where this virus is but it is possible that we are missing cases that are on the more mild end of the spectrum.”
“It's important that we don't give up and we move to a measure to say, we're just going to let this happen and we're going to hope for the best,” she continued.
Many countries have focused testing exclusively on people with moderate to critical symptoms, so a potentially large number of cases might have gone undetected.