COVID-19 brought the 2020 New Year in with a bang. Almost immediately, scientists started experiments, shared data and revealed the secrets of the pathogen. Will we apply what we learn from working together to contain this novel virus to halt dengue?
Just eight weeks into 2020, the novel strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans had infected tens of thousands of people in China. Fatalities had reached several thousand.
Meanwhile, 2019 was one of the worst years on record for dengue, according to WHO. There was an unprecedented surge in epidemics across the globe: in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
"As of 6am GVA time this morning, #China has reported 72,528 #COVID19 cases to WHO, incl. 1870 deaths.
In the past 24h, 🇨🇳 has reported 1,891 new cases, including both clinically- & lab-confirmed cases.
Outside 🇨🇳, there are now 804 cases in 25 countries, with 3 deaths"-@DrTedros
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 18, 2020
So, how do the COVID-19 and dengue outbreaks compare?
|Coronavirus as of 18th February 2020||Dengue in 2019|
|Suspected cases||Not known||100 million|
|Confirmed cases||75,000||>4 million|
|Average new cases per day||1,500||~10,000|
|Asymptomatic rate||Not known||40-80%|
|Average daily fatalities||38||~100|
|Country worst affected||China||Brazil|
|Transmission||Person-person||Person-mosquito and mosquito-person|
|Complications||Severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties||Severe dengue that can result in shock, internal bleeding, and even death|
Coronavirus: A global emergency
The global response to the coronavirus outbreak has been phenomenal, boosted by a call to action from the World Health Organization.
On 30th January, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC). Its International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee felt a global coordinated effort was needed to combat the virus and asked the global community to “provide support to low- and middle-income countries to enable their response to this event, as well as to facilitate access to diagnostics, potential vaccines and therapeutics”.
Collaboration achieves results
So, what have their COVID-19 efforts achieved?
- By January 9, Chinese researchers had recovered the virus from an infected individual and generated a full genetic sequence of it.
- By January 11, scientists had developed tests capable of detecting genetic sequences that distinguish the new agent from other coronaviruses circulating in humans.
- On January 23, CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, announced three programmes to develop vaccines – and a fourth on January 31, and fifth on February 3.
- By January 28, China’s National Medical Products Administration had approved diagnostic test kits from five companies.
- On February 15, Nature announced more than 80 clinical trials had launched to test coronavirus treatments.
If nothing else positive, the coronavirus outbreak has shown we can work together to achieve results – and rapidly.
Will the world take what it has learnt from working together to combat COVID-19 and apply it to dengue? Does it have the motivation to act to combat a virus that isn’t hitting manufacturers, supply chains and, ultimately, stock markets in the West? Or do we have to wait until climate change brings dengue to developed countries before it acts decisively?
On 14th November 2019, the WHO announced that it was scaling up its response to the worldwide surge in dengue. Will the world sit up and listen? Will the world respond?