WHO setting up emergency panel to advise on MERS

The World Health Organization says it is setting up an emergency committee of experts to advise it on the evolving situation involving the MERS coronavirus.

The World Health Organization says it is setting up an emergency committee of experts to advise it on the evolving situation involving the MERS coronavirus.

A senior official with the Geneva-based global health agency says the committee will be drawn up of people with expertise in public health, infectious diseases, epidemiology and laboratory science.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda says there has been a steady drumbeat of new cases over the past three months and the WHO wants to be prepared in case the situation worsens.

He says between 12 and 15 people will be asked to sit on the committee, which will hold its first meeting on Tuesday.

One of the committee’s first tasks will be to consider whether the WHO should declare MERS a public health emergency of international concern under the International Health Regulations, a global health treaty.

In a change from past experience, the names of the experts will be made public, with the WHO promising to post the list on Monday.

During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, the WHO refused to reveal the names of the experts advising Director General Dr. Margaret Chan. At the time Chan said it was important to shield the identities of committee members so they could be free from outside pressure.

But a report that studied the WHO’s response to the H1N1 outbreak suggested the well-intentioned move actually contributed to public suspicions of the way the agency handled the pandemic.

Fukuda says the source countries for the MERS virus have been invited to present information to the emergency committee, which will meet via a conference call.

Of the 79 confirmed MERS cases to date, all have originated from four countries: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has seen the bulk of the infections, 65. Just over half of the known cases — 42 — have died from the infection.