WHO: Preparations Must Begin Now to Head Off Next Flu Pandemic

The World Health Organization is launching a global influenza strategy to protect countries from the next influenza pandemic, which could potentially threaten the lives of millions of people.

The World Health Organization says the question is not if there will be a global influenza pandemic, but when this deadly disease will strike. The agency calls this the biggest public health threat facing the world. This is because the virus travels rapidly, affecting every corner of the world in a matter of weeks or months.

The strategy WHO is rolling out aims to prevent a pandemic from gaining hold by helping countries strengthen their surveillance systems and by developing better global tools for the prevention and control of influenza.

Chief of influenza preparedness and response at WHO, Ann Moen, says there is a need for improved vaccines that have longer lasting immunity.She says antivirals and better treatment for the disease also are needed.

“Countries can only achieve and be prepared through routine programs. You cannot just wait for the emergency to happen and then get prepared,” Moen said. “So, we really need to help countries strengthen their routine programs for influenza so that they build capacity not only for flu, but other emerging diseases. And it really improves their preparedness for a potential pandemic threat.”

WHO reports an estimated 1 billion people become ill with the flu every year, killing between 290,000 and 650,000 people. Unlike a pandemic, these cases of influenza hit specific regions and countries.WHO says vaccination is the most effective way to prevent getting the disease.

In 2011, states got together and approved the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework.Currently, 400 million doses of vaccine could be made available for distribution among countries under this plan in case of a pandemic.Unfortunately, this is not enough to help everyone.

A big problem is that a pandemic strain has to be identified before a new vaccine can go into production, and that could take weeks or months.However, WHO officials say research is underway to speed up this process.

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