Thursday, April 15, 2010

New UN study urges sustained momentum to tackle human, animal influenza threats

14 April 2010 While there has been substantial global progress towards pandemic preparedness in recent years, it is vital to maintain that momentum to respond effectively to existing and possible future threats, according to a new study by the United Nations and the World Bank.

“Continued global vigilance for infectious disease outbreaks and pandemics is of critical importance for health security and well-being,” says the report, entitled “Animal and pandemic influenza: a framework for sustaining momentum.”

The report notes that an estimated 75 per cent of new human diseases originate in animals and an average of two new animal diseases with cross-over capabilities emerge every year. We have to find ways to put the work on bird flu and on pandemics more into the routine business of ministries of health and ministries of agriculture
The emergence of three major epidemiological events into the first decade of the new century – SARS, H5N1 avian influenza and H1N1 pandemic influenza – is an indication of the rate at which threats may continue to arise, it adds.

“Sustaining momentum,” states the report, “will require a strategic use of resources and a move away from emergency response-driven projects and special, single-focus initiatives, to long-term capacity-building.”

The report will be taken up by delegates from over 80 countries when they meet at the International Ministerial Conference on Animal and Pandemic Influenza, which will be held in Hanoi, Viet Nam, from 20 to 21 April.

“This is a really significant conference,” David Nabarro, Senior UN System Influenza Coordinator, told reporters in New York, noting that the gathering will take stock of where the world is with regard to bird flu and the H1N1 virus, review preparedness and consider lessons learned from countries with successful control efforts.

The threats from bird flu and H1N1 are not over yet, he noted, stressing the need for further measures to ensure an effective global response.

“We have to find ways to put the work on bird flu and on pandemics more into the routine business of ministries of health and ministries of agriculture, into the routine work of disaster preparedness units in countries,” he stated. “And so an important element of the discussions in Hanoi will be the way forward.”

Part of the work in Hanoi, he added, will be to consider whether or not extra preparedness is necessary to ensure that those who look after animal health and those that look after human health are working together well enough to prepare for disease threats that come from animals.

A key question, he noted, is: “Are we well enough organized as a world to be prepared for diseases that can jump from the animal kingdom and lead to sickness and possibly quite widespread suffering among humans?”

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