Tuesday, October 6, 2009

International Monetary Fund H1N1 Press Briefing

Last Sunday, October 4th, the World Bank Human Development Network (HDN) held an hour-long press conference with Ms.Joy Phumaphi (Vice President, World Bank), Dr.Julie Hall (WHO), and Dr.David Nabarro (Senior Flu Coordinator, UN) on the emerging H1N1 pandemic.

The panel highlighted increasing requests from developing countries for support during the pandemic, especially for overall health systems strengthening, communications, surveillance and decision making, and laboratory strengthening. Dr. David Nabarro discussed that even though there has been a demonstrated willingness by drug manufacturers and some countries to donate both vaccines and antivirals to developing countries, the reality of the situation is that there will still a shortage of vaccine for a large proportion of the people who need it in these countries.

Dr. Nabarro described the main priority in the upcoming weeks to be the need to “build up the solidarity between wealthy nations and poor nations to ensure that adequate vaccine is made available so that it can reach health workers and other essential personnel in developing countries in time to help them as the next waves of the pandemic reach them and affect the well-being of their populations.”

He also mentioned a need to see cash donations to enable countries to get prepared, to communicate with their people, to establish better-functioning health systems that can withstand the impact of large numbers of cases of influenza and also to ensure that nations themselves can continue functioning under the onslaught of what will be a high-incidence disease. For this, the UN is now involved in intense discussions with governments so that they can find ways to make the resources available in ways that don't just deal with this pandemic but help to create greater capacity to deal with future public health emergencies like this one.

The panel also highlighted the gap in the availability of antivirals, which has not been talked about enough in the media. Though some antivirals have been donated by pharmaceutical company Roche, and by some governments, the total estimated requirement is around 78 million treatment courses, and so far, we can only really count on having 13 million.

Dr. Nabarro also emphasized the challenges in low resource countries with basic issues like soap and other materials with which people can wash their hands to maintain hygiene, in order to limit transmission of the virus.

Among many others, an issue that was discussed included possible combination of the avian flu H5N1 virus – which is still circulating in some countries – with the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus.

View the transcript of the briefing at http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/EGUA7WJNYN/$File/full_report.pdf

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