WHO Stands Firm On Using Masks to Combat COVID-19
Dr Maria van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated its firm recommendation that wearing masks is an effective method to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a media briefing on Wednesday.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said that coronavirus is still in circulation and wearing appropriate face masks is one of the ways to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“I reiterate that the use of masks continues to be part of our strategy to reduce the spread. We have a strategy that is based on vaccinations, on distancing as much as possible as we go about our lives, wearing of well-fitting masks when we’re around others, and particularly on public transportation and certainly among health workers.”

In January 2023, Cochrane published a comprehensive analysis of 78 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) conducted in several countries over a period of time, including six RCTs conducted during COVID-19 pandemic, concluded that wearing face masks “makes little or no difference to the outcome of influenza‐like illness (ILI)/COVID-19 like illness compared to not wearing masks”. 

The study said that there is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. “The pooled results of RCTs did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection.”

“There was a systematic review that was published that was looking at randomized controlled trials,” Van Kerkhove said, adding that as an organization, the WHO looks at all available evidence on the issue. 

“We continue to look at all available evidence that is provided to us, that is published through this pandemic as well as looking at other studies of other respiratory diseases, including flu, influenza-like illness, acute respiratory infections and severe acute respiratory infections,” she added.

“Masks remain one of the recommendations that we have because we know that they are effective at preventing some of the transmission. They’re not perfect and that’s why we have a comprehensive strategy, a layered approach of many different types of interventions,” stressed Van Kerkhove.

Working around sanctions on Syria

The WHO also told the media briefing that it is making the best possible use of the pause in sanctions against Syria to ensure that aid reaches the people who have been affected by the earthquake. 

Around 47,100 people were killed in the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and parts of Turkiyë on 6 February. Several countries including the US have imposed sanctions on Syria in an attempt to pressurise the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stop killing civilians.

However, sanctions have been relaxed to enable aid to reach those affected by the earthquake. 

Explaining that the WHO is working with other UN partners to procure and mobilize medical equipment and supplies, Dr Abdi Rahaman Mahamud said that the relief work is moving in the right direction. 

In response to the global mobilization of help to Syria and Turkiyë, the US government released a compliance document on Tuesday for those willing to mobilize aid.

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