Chan Cites Dangers, Obligations at International Pandemic Meeting

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, opened a four-day international meeting on pandemic influenza Nov. 20 by warning participants about the potential damage of pandemic flu but also citing extensive preparations made around the world. The meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, will examine access to benefits and sharing of viruses so public health authorities everywhere can assess risks more effectively. Delegations from the United States, India, China, France, Germany, Greece, Thailand, Japan, and many other nations are expected to participate.

"Think of what may be in store." Chan said in her opening speech. "The last influenza pandemic began in 1968. At that time, airlines were not carrying more than 2 billion passengers each year, as they do today. HIV/AIDS was unknown in 1968. Tuberculosis had not resurged as a global threat. At that time, in 1968, the world did not have the Internet, which has spawned global interdependence in so many areas. This interdependence has greatly amplified the economic and social disruption that new diseases can cause. Countries need to brace themselves for a situation where up to 25 percent of the workforce may be ill at a given time. They have to brace themselves for a possible meltdown of basic municipal services and a slowdown of economic activity. And this situation will be occurring globally. There will be no fortunate unaffected parts of the world."

But Chan indicated she is hopeful. "Most countries now have influenza pandemic preparedness plans. Efforts to strengthen basic surveillance and response capacities contribute to our collective public health security," she said. "Let me give just one example: The August outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever, in Uganda, was stopped dead in its tracks before it had a chance to become a national or an international threat. As the minister of health of Uganda informed me, the outbreak was promptly controlled by activating the preparedness plan for pandemic influenza. All the procedures were in place and worked flawlessly. Knowledge and experience in these areas are permanent steps forward that will hold us in good stead for whatever lies ahead."

"The present situation is unique," she said. "In the past, pandemics have always announced themselves with a sudden explosion of cases and taken the world by surprise. For the first time in history, we have been given an advance warning. As an international community, we have an obligation to use this opportunity wisely."

For an agenda, a provisional list of participants, progress reports, and more, visit www.who.int/gb/pip/.

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