World's Experts Gathered to Plot New WHO Flu Guidance

The World Health Organization gathered 120 influenza and planning experts from Nember States, research institutions, and UN agencies for a meeting this week in Geneva, Switzerland, to review the current WHO pandemic preparedness guidance and discuss a revised guidance to be issued later this year. "New concepts and tools, including the International Health Regulations 2005, the global pandemic influenza action plan, antiviral and H5N1 vaccine stockpiles, pandemic severity scale, and a rapid containment protocol have emerged since the last revision in 2005," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, coordinator of the WHO Global Influenza Program. "Experience gained through dealing with H5N1 outbreaks and through active preparedness by many countries makes this review a crucial exercise."

WHO first provided its guidance in 1999. Since then, pandemic flu preparedness has become one of the chief public health challenges. The risk level of an influenza pandemic has not changed, according to WHO, so maintaining preparedness is crucial. "One day we will face a pandemic, but we don't know when," said Fukuda. "So what can we do? We can take action to improve our ability to decrease the risk of harm from a pandemic. We hope to improve the guidance and the practical tools we give to Member States through our efforts this week."

Recent scientific advances have included the development of H5N1 vaccines and more experience with clinical treatment of H5N1 cases. The new International Health Regulations will influence how Member States and WHO respond to potential and actual pandemic flu threats, according to the agency.

At the meeting, working groups have focused on areas such as disease control, surveillance, medical interventions, continuation of emergency services, school closures, and the role of communications during a pandemic. Once the content is agreed upon, new draft guidelines will be circulated for comment.

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