More than 200 scientists from over 30 countries are urging the World Health Organization to take more seriously the possibility of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus as case numbers rise around the world and surge in the United States.
In a forthcoming paper titled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19,” 239 signatories attempt to raise awareness about what they say is growing evidence that the virus can spread indoors through aerosols that linger in the air and can be infectious even in smaller quantities than previously thought.
Until recently, most public health guidelines have focused on social distancing measures, regular hand-washing and precautions to avoid droplets. But the signatories to the paper say the potential of the virus to spread via airborne transmission has not been fully appreciated even by public health institutions such as the WHO.
The paper, which was shared with The Washington Post ahead of publication this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, comes as the WHO faces criticism over its coronavirus response, calls for reform and a U.S. threat to cut funding and withdraw completely.
The fact that scientists resorted to a paper to pressure the WHO is unusual, analysts said, and is likely to renew questions about the WHO’s messaging.
“WHO’s credibility is being undermined through a steady drip-drip of confusing messages, including asymptomatic spread, the use of masks, and now airborne transmission,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who provides technical assistance to the organization.
He praised the WHO for hosting regular briefings and acknowledged that the organization is in a tough spot because it “has to make recommendations for the entire world and it feels it needs irrefutable scientific proof before coming to a conclusion.”
But he warned that “the public, and even scientists, will lose full confidence in WHO without clearer technical guidance.”
A spokesperson for the organization said it is aware of media reports about the issue and will have technical experts review the matter. The agency has repeatedly defended its handling of the pandemic.
The WHO, which was founded in 1948, is the U.N. agency tasked with promoting global health. It plays a critical role in expanding access to health care, setting up vaccination programs and fighting diseases such as polio.
But its portfolio has grown faster than its budget. And in times of crisis, it has often struggled to lead.
Source: The Washington Post