UPDATE 1-WHO calls for ramping up of medical supplies to fight coronavirus

(Recasts, adds detail and quotes throughout)

LONDON/LAUSANNE, March 18 (Reuters) - The World Health Organization called on Wednesday for “order and discipline” in the market for health equipment needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic and said it was in discussions with China and others to ramp up supplies.

“There is a scramble on the market and we need order and discipline on that,” Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies programme, told a virtual press briefing.

“Countries like China and others have immense capacities for ramping up production and we are working with them to see how that can be achieved, and other large scale producers of such equipment,” he added, referring to supplies such as ventilators.

The Geneva-based WHO’s director general called on countries to take a comprehensive approach to fighting the pandemic and to isolate, test and trace as many cases as possible.

“To suppress and control the epidemic, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“If they don’t, transmission chains can continue at a low level and then resurface once physical distancing measures are lifted,” he added. He said the test and trace strategy “must be the backbone of the response in every country”.

More than 200,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported the world over, although death rates have varied across countries and have been particularly high in Italy where 475 new deaths over 24 hours were reported on Wednesday.

Ryan said that the difference was likely caused by the “astonishing” number of cases within the clinical system and well as the high number of elderly people in Italy.

“When patient numbers begin to overwhelm it becomes a simple factor of your ability to provide adequate care,” he said, praising the courage and bravery of the healthcare workers treating over 1,200 patients in intensive care.

“It’s an astonishing number. The fact they are saving so many is a miracle in itself,” he said.

Tedros added that to speed the search for potential therapies and drugs for COVID-19 infection, the WHO and its partners are organising a multi-country study to analyse and compare some as-yet untested treatments.

“This large international study is designed to generate the robust data we need to show which treatments are the most effective,” Tedros said. “We have called this study the solidarity trial.” He said several countries such as France, Iran, Norway and South Africa had already signed up.

Another WHO expert said the study would test five treatments and see which could reduce mortality or the amount of time patients spent in hospital or intensive care. (Reporting by Kate Kelland in London and Emma Farge in Lausanne, editing by Mark Heinrich)