UN health agency plans new fight against flu

UN health agency plans new fight against flu

The World Health Organization (WHO) today issued a rallying call to boost the fight against influenza, a potentially devastating disease that has been estimated to infect as many as 100 million people each year in the northern hemisphere alone.

Far from being an innocuous "cold-like" infection, flu is a killer, causing approximately 20,000 deaths each year in the United States alone, the agency said in a statement issued in Geneva. It warned that the virus that causes flu is highly contagious and affects on average one in ten adults and one in three children every year.

Explosive outbreaks of influenza - typically lasting six to eight weeks - occur every year. Experts predict that it is only a matter of time before a brand new influenza strain emerges and sweeps across the planet, causing a devastating pandemic.

WHO is developing a Global Agenda on Influenza, which the agency calls "a kind of worldwide 'hit list' of activities to reduce the death and disease caused by annual epidemics of influenza." The first stage is a call for all those involved in monitoring, treating or studying outbreaks to identify the biggest problems they face and to propose possible ways to address them.

There is a particularly urgent need to tackle flu in developing countries, where it is often not perceived as a major public health problem, partly due to a lack of reliable information. The Global Agenda is an opportunity to tackle this lack of vital data, WHO says.

The agency invites all those interested in influenza control - academics, policy makers, national drug licensing and donor agencies, the pharmaceutical industry, private sector groups, and those involved in advocacy and communication - to provide input to the Global Agenda.

WHO expects to publish the Global Agenda on Influenza on the Internet later in 2001 so that it may be discussed publicly. The Agenda will then be continuously updated to take account of comments and the most up-to-date research.