Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A logo is pictured at the headquarters of the World Health Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 30, 2020.

Denis Balibouse/Reuters

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that some treatments appear to be limiting the severity or length of the COVID-19 disease, referring to the results of early studies of four or five treatments.

The Geneva-based WHO is leading a global initiative to develop safe and effective vaccines, tests and drugs to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19. The respiratory illness has infected 4.29 million people around the world, according to a Reuters tally.

“We do have some treatments that seem to be in very early studies limiting the severity or the length of the illness but we do not have anything that can kill or stop the virus,” spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing.

Story continues below advertisement

“We do have potentially positive data coming out but we need to see more data to be 100 per cent confident that we can say this treatment over that one,” she added, saying more research was needed and planned.

Harris did not name the treatments. She later said she had been referring to early results of four or five treatments already in the public domain and not to the WHO’s Solidarity Trial which is broader in scope but whose results are not yet available.

Gilead Science Inc says its antiviral drug remdesivir has helped improve outcomes for COVID-19 patients.

Clinical data released last month on remdesivir raised hopes it might be an effective treatment. Several studies looking at combinations of antiviral medicines have also suggested they may help patients fight off the virus.

Results of a trial in Hong Kong released this month showed a triple drug combination of antiviral medicines helped relieve symptoms in patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 infection and swiftly reduced the amount of virus in their bodies.

The trial, which involved 127 patients, compared those given the combination drug, made up of the HIV medicine lopinavir-ritonavir, the hepatitis drug ribavirin, and the multiple sclerosis treatment interferon beta, with a control group given just the HIV drug.

A malaria treatment championed by U.S. President Donald Trump as a “game changer” in the fight against the coronavirus again failed to show a benefit in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, a study this month found.

Story continues below advertisement

While the study had certain limitations, doctors reported that the use of hydroxycholoquine neither lessened the need for patients requiring breathing assistance nor the risk of death.

In Geneva, the WHO official sounded a note of caution around expectations for a vaccine, saying coronaviruses in general are “very tricky viruses” that are “difficult to produce vaccines against.”

More than 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are being developed, including several in clinical trials. The WHO said in April a vaccine would take at least 12 months.

Harris said that the Americas were the current “center” of the pandemic, although she also noted rising cases in Africa. However, she said the continent had a “big advantage” over other countries with little experience of infectious disease outbreaks.

“They often have very good contact tracing infrastructure and a deep, deep, deep memory and understanding of why we take a new pathogen very, very seriously,” she said, singling out South Africa for its effective testing and contact tracing.

Asked about the reasons for high case loads in the United States and Brazil, Harris said: “Around the world we have seen that the warnings we put out right from the start, very, very early on, were not seen as warnings about a very serious, lethal disease.”

Story continues below advertisement

She restated that the WHO, which has come under criticism especially from the United States for its handling of the pandemic, would conduct an “after-action” review that would include a “free and frank” discussion on its performance.

U.S. President Donald Trump is working to reopen the economy quickly against recommendations from health experts to move cautiously to avoid a resurgence of the virus that has so far killed more than 82,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll in the world. He said he acted early to prevent the spread of the disease.

Brazil has registered a total of 177,589 confirmed cases of the virus and 12,400 deaths, the most deadly outbreak in an emerging market nation.

Historian Niall Ferguson compares COVID-19 to past global sicknesses, likening it to a flu pandemic that hit in the 1950s. He also says the coronavirus will accelerate the emergence of a new Cold War between China and the U.S. Mr. Ferguson was in conversation with Rudyard Griffiths from the Munk Debates. The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies