The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that Middle East states needed to urgently offer more information about coronavirus cases to help bolster the fight against the disease across the region.
Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said the regional approach to fighting the coronavirus had so far been "uneven" and that much more should be done.
Improved access to information would allow the WHO to track its spread closely and quickly apply proven public health measures, Mr Mandhari told reporters in a video-conference briefing.
"Unfortunately, even today, as the situation is becoming critical, information on cases is insufficiently communicated by countries to WHO," he said, referring to "under-reporting on the part of some countries with regard to positive cases".
The WHO had seen efforts to strengthen surveillance, scale up testing and support families who are isolating relatives or in quarantine, he added, but some states were not fully engaged.
"Frankly we are seeing uneven approaches across the region. While we have observed impressive progress in several countries, not all are yet applying the whole of government and whole of society approach."
"The time to act is now. I cannot stress enough the level of urgency."
Across much of the region outside Iran – which is one of the worst affected countries worldwide – the number of confirmed cases has been relatively low compared to east Asia and Europe. But WHO officials fear real figures could be considerably higher than reported due to a lack of testing and a prevalence of mild cases.
So far, Mr Mandhari said just over 18,000 cases had been confirmed in 18 countries in the WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Pakistan and Afghanistan as well and Middle Eastern and North African states. That includes 1,010 deaths in seven countries.