GENEVA, July 5 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) is to convene an emergency committee next week on the deadly Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), WHO assistant director-general for health security and environment Keiji Fukuda said Friday.
Fukuda told a press conference that there was currently no emergency or pandemic, but many things about the disease remained unknown such as the animal reservoir.
"I do want to stress that there are a lot of things that we do not know. For example, one of the key pieces of missing information is that are there many people who have mild infections or asymptomatic infections that we are missing," said the senior health official, adding that such information would be vital for the understanding of the transmission and epidemiology of the disease.
He said that the absence of that kind of information made it very hard to peer into the whole picture and make predictions. He also listed three possibilities of the disease's future development: simply fading away, the ongoing pattern continuing for some period of time or more cases or outbreaks appearing.
Fukuda told reporters that based on the current situation and gaps in knowledge, WHO decided to convene an International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee next week.
"The reason why we will do this is that recognizing what we see and what we don't see. We really want be in a position to be ready for any possibility, and we want countries to be in positions to be ready for any possible directions that the virus can take," explained the assistant director-general.
"If in the future we do see some kind of explosions, or if there is some big outbreak, or we think that the situation has really changed, we will already have a group of emergency committee experts who are really up to speed, so that we don't have to go through a steep learning curve," Fukuda said, "we just want to make sure that we can move as quickly as possible if we need to move in the future in any major directions."
Fukuda furthered that to convene an IHR emergency committee would allow the WHO Director-General and the health organization to receive input from an external group of experts who would provide formal consultation and information.
It was introduced that the IHR emergency committee on MERS-CoV was the second committee to be set up under the WHO rules which came into force in 2007. The first committee was convened in response to 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Fukuda introduced that next Tuesday, and also next Thursday if needed, WHO would convene the emergency committee on MERS-CoV, consisted of international experts specialized in different fields and whose names to be get publicly known on next Monday.
The committee would be provided with information that WHO has and then review the situation, with part of input coming from countries with cases which could directly tell the committee members their perspectives and concerns, as Fukuda noted, and then it would be asked to provide views on whether the event constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and whether should WHO make additional temporary recommendations beyond what has already set.