Fifty-eighth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific,
10-14 September 2007, Jeju, Republic of Korea
Jeju, Republic of Korea, 12 September 2007—Warning against the dangers of complacency, the World Health Organization today urged Member States not to drop their guard against the threat posed by avian influenza.
Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said many countries still do not have the minimum systems in place for pandemic response. In some countries this has the potential to hinder preparations for pandemic preparedness.
At a meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific here, Dr Omi stressed that the avian influenza situation remained as serious and dangerous as ever, and that the world faced extremely serious consequences, with the threat of a human influenza pandemic showing no signs of abating.
Countries need to include rapid containment of an emerging influenza pandemic in their national pandemic preparedness plans, especially in those countries that have not experienced an avian influenza outbreak, Dr Omi said. "Most countries still need to develop their country-level operational capacity for rapid containment."
WHO's rapid response and containment strategy aims to stop—or at least slow down—the spread of pandemic influenza at the source to minimize the impact it could have on global health, economic activity and social development.
Dr Omi said national pandemic preparedness plans now require full involvement of non-health sectors and local governments. "All sectors of society need to be involved in improving pandemic preparedness, which calls not just for medical services and public health interventions, but also for maintaining basic social services such as the supply of safe water and food, communications, transportation and social security, all of which are essential during a pandemic."
There is also a continuing need for countries to strengthen their basic surveillance and response systems for responding to avian influenza at its source and improving pandemic response, Dr Omi said.
Despite efforts to control outbreaks, A (H5N1) has become deeply rooted in domestic birds, making it difficult to control the spread of the virus, even in countries that used to be bird flu-free.
On the positive front, the entry into force of new International Health Regulations (2005) in June this year has given the global community a new legal framework to detect and respond to public health threats and emergencies, including pandemic influenza, Dr Omi said.
The Regulations, which require WHO Member States to ensure minimum capacity for epidemic alert and response by 2010, are a major step forward in international cooperation and collective defence against diseases that pose a potential threat to global health.
As of 12 September, a total of 328 human cases and 200 deaths from avian influenza had been reported in 12 countries worldwide since 2003, with a case fatality rate of 61%. Although the A (H5N1) virus is at present poorly adapted to humans, limited human-to-human transmission continues to occur.
Scientists fear that the A (H5N1) bird flu virus could mutate into a more virulent form that spreads easily among humans, leading to a pandemic with the potential to kill millions.