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It's not about the science

Press Release on the Wuhan 2019-nCoV Outbreak and WHO Inaction

Jan 23, 2019

Taylor Winkleman

Anthony Falzarano

Stephen Taylor

Jessica Smrekar

Kate Kerr

When the Global Health Security Agenda launched, it was almost immediately defined by the very crisis it was created to address: the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak. Six years later, we are about to see if our political leaders have paid attention to the lessons learned from years of GHSA collaboration and endless pontificating and retrospectives. Is hindsight finally 2020?


To be blunt, it’s not about the science.  As we write this, every infectious disease researcher, doctor, and epidemiologist we know is tweeting, texting, and telephoning each other with information and updates.  In real time, we receive new information on new nCoV cases, responses, and rumors the world over. Research articles are peer-reviewed and published at lightning speed, only to be contradicted with equal velocity (snakes, anyone?).  Press releases by health leaders and experts are hopelessly outpaced by new public concerns and dubious assessments by self-appointed Twitter experts.

The language used in the International Health Regulations to describe an event that would warrant the urgent cooperation of nations to stem a potential health catastrophe is simple: An extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response. 

A novel coronavirus constitutes a clear public health risk that warrants a guarded stance. This virus originated in Wuhan, China, a densely populated city with over 30 million international visitors each year, and has spread to seven countries and counting thus far, including the United States.  International spread is a foregone conclusion.

The threat is manifest.  Global health leaders around the world must act swiftly and in unison to contain the spread of the 2019 nCoV.  To unite the global health community in this action, the IHR gives us a call to arms. Now is the critical moment.  Will the Secretary General value human lives above economic gain, the safety of communities above political appeasement, and open, transparent communication of global threats over national pride?  

The time to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern is now.  At this critical juncture, will the WHO place health above politics?

It's not about the science. It's about whether anyone has been listening. 

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