- by Alison

Has coronavirus brought the world together to fight deadly viruses?

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.

So, how do the COVID-19 and dengue outbreaks compare?

Coronavirus as of 18th February 2020 Dengue in 2019
Year discovered 2019 1943
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%
Mild rate 80% 95%
Severe rate 14% <5%
Fatality rate 2.3% 1-2.5%
Fatalities 1,870 >40,000
Average daily fatalities 38 ~100
Countries 25 >125
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.


  • 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.

Combatting dengue

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?