An accurate picture of a fatal respiratory viral epidemic is being frustrated by the World Health Organisation's failure to keep pace with new cases in its global announcements, a specialist in infections says.
The WHO's last statement on cases and deaths due to Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) was dated April 26, lagging behind Saudi Arabia's latest report, released just yesterday.
Catching up with the latest data was a basic and simple task that the WHO should be able to manage, Dr Ho Pak-leung, president of the University of Hong Kong's centre for infection, said.
"The problem with the figures is serious," Ho said.
"If the figures are delayed, an analysis cannot be made accurately. People in different parts of the world will be unable to get a grasp on the epidemic."
He pointed to the badly hit Saudi Arabia, where the Ministry of Health had recorded 104 new infections in the past two weeks alone, taking the domestic total to 371, with 107 deaths.
The WHO had failed to convey the seriousness of the recent situation, he said. Its April 26 report showed just 261 cases worldwide, including 93 deaths, since Mers first emerged in the Middle East in April 2012.
A spokesman for the WHO said its official notifications often took longer than direct public announcements by governments because it asked for more details.
Ho believed the global figure should now be well over 400, since the United Arab Emirates had not been consistent in updating its outbreak. Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man called for more vigilance, saying two cases had spread to Southeast Asia. US scientists announced on Wednesday a possible vaccine that worked in mice.