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What does the global health emergency mean for GPs?


Matt Woodley


31/01/2020 3:21:11 PM

The combination of more than 125 confirmed coronavirus cases in 22 countries and human-to-human transmission outside of China prompted the WHO to make the declaration.

Coronavirus cases graph
Almost 10,000 cases have been confirmed around the world.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) constitutes ‘an extraordinary event’ that is ‘a public health risk to other states through the international spread of the disease’.
 
Such events potentially require ‘a coordinated international response’ and imply a situation that is ‘serious, unusual or unexpected’ and ‘may require immediate international action’.
 
The number of confirmed cases has increased more than tenfold in the past week, from 941 on 24 January to at least 9800 at the time of publication. So far 213 people have died as a result of the virus, but no deaths have been recorded outside of China.
 
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the outbreak as ‘unprecedented’, but said international public health partners are ‘working diligently’ to bring the outbreak under control as fast as possible.
 
‘The only way we will defeat this outbreak is for all countries to work together in a spirit of solidarity and cooperation,’ he said.
 
‘We must remember that these are people, not numbers.
 
‘More important than the declaration of a public health emergency are the committee’s recommendations for preventing the spread of the 2019-nCoV virus and ensuring a measured and evidence-based response.’
 
The declaration means the WHO could potentially begin making recommendations to help control the global spread of the disease, such as directing countries to increase patient screening or restrict travel to certain areas.
 
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy welcomed the announcement and said Australia had been calling for the WHO to declare a public health emergency for several days.
 
‘It is a recognition of the scale of the outbreak in China and the fact that there now have been a significant number of exported cases,’ he said.
 
‘Australia is making a substantial contribution. There is a very active group in the University of Queensland who have been involved in new vaccine development from viral viruses using molecular biology.’
 
Dr Glynn Kelly, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Disaster Management network, told newsGP the declaration is particularly important for lower-income countries, as it will likely mean more organised international support that should help with containment.
 
‘In Australia we will follow measures already implemented but, again, as GPs we need consistent advice and support, between the Commonwealth and the states, and also among the states themselves,’ he said.
 
‘It was a policy after the swine flu that any and all advice released should be timely and consistent, but currently NSW advice is different to Queensland, for example.’
 
Dr Kelly also said there are growing calls for patients to be sent to dedicated centres, rather than general practices or emergency departments (EDs).
 
‘Infected patients presenting in GP surgeries or an ED can effectively close the ED or the surgery for 14 days,’ he said.
 
‘Additionally, there is a call for an MBS item to cover GPs who are triaging patients on the phone.’
 
The number of confirmed cases in Australia has risen to nine – four in NSW, three in Victoria and two in Queensland – with many more being tested across the country.
 
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters this week that Australia is well prepared for further cases, but Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said she is ‘frustrated’ with the national response.
 
The Queensland Government was reportedly unaware two confirmed coronavirus patients, who fell ill on a flight to the Gold Coast from Melbourne on Thursday 30 January, had recently arrived in Australia from Wuhan.
 
‘I am frustrated by the lack of information that we are receiving from the Federal Government,’ she told Sunrise.
 
‘The group that arrived, they arrived into Melbourne. Only the Federal Government has the details of their incoming boarding card of who they are, where they are staying and their mobile phone contact numbers. We need to contact those people.’
 
The public criticism sparked a slanging match between the two politicians, but appeared to support reports from GPs who have complained of not being able to test potential cases, mixed messages and a lack of clarity from governments and public health units.
 
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
 
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Dr Hema Irene John   2/02/2020 3:46:18 AM

Dedicated centres should be set Up to tackle this and not GP centres who don't have isolation rooms or protective gear. There should be incentives for these centres.