New flu uncovers public health’s successes, challenges – Ban

19 May 2009

Global solidarity is crucial to containing the outbreak of influenza A(H1N1), which has also revealed the successes and challenges public health faces, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

Global solidarity is crucial to containing the outbreak of influenza A(H1N1), which has also revealed the successes and challenges public health faces, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

In addition to highlighting the interconnected nature of the world, the new flu’s spread has allowed for a deeper understanding of the need for advance planning for a pandemic, Mr. Ban told the World Health Assembly under way in Geneva. “We have never been better prepared to respond.”

Crucial in fighting the new flu is global solidarity, which he said “must be at the heart of the world’s response to this crisis.”

This solidarity must be manifested in greater access to drugs and vaccines, the sharing of virus samples and data, and the lifting of “self-defeating” restrictions on travel, the Secretary-General said.

“It means that WHO [World Health Organization] and other vital bodies have the resources they need when they need them,” he added. “It means that we all act in the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.”

Further, the outbreak has highlighted the importance of transparency and the importance of investing in strong public health systems, which Mr. Ban characterized as “the guardians of good health in normal times and the bedrock of our response to the new outbreaks and emerging diseases.”

WHO reported today that 40 countries have officially reported nearly 10,000 cases of influenza A(H1N1), with nearly 80 deaths. WHO’s pandemic alert level remains at Phase 5 – on a six-point warning scale – meaning that sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus on a community level is restricted to one of the agency’s geographic regions, in this case North America.

In today’s address, the Secretary-General also emphasized the importance of ensuring continued investment in public health, even in the face of a recession. Curbing funding on health at times of financial downturns is “not just morally wrong, it is economically foolish,” he added.

In spite of the need for increased resources, he pointed out that “we also must do more with what we have now,” calling for creative solutions to surmount obstacles, including women’s health, an issue he said ties together with global security, prosperity and progress.

Also today, Mr. Ban took part in a meeting, convened by WHO and attended by representatives of some 20 pharmaceutical companies, to ensure that developing countries will have access to vaccines.

“Our outreach this morning with the leaders was to discuss how best to ensure that vaccines get to those who need them,” the Secretary-General stated at a joint news conference with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

He pledged to work with companies, governments and other partners to improve vaccine access, including pricing and distribution, in poor communities and countries.

“We must act in the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Mr. Ban. “In addition to being noble, this is also in our self-interest given the nature of infectious diseases. And we must remain vigilant. We may be in a grace period with H1N1, but we are still in the danger zone.”

At a high-level gathering on influenza A(H1N1) yesterday, Dr. Chan underscored the importance of obtaining reliable information on the different aspects of the influenza A(H1N1) infection in order to make informed decisions on how to manage the outbreak and prepare for a possible global pandemic.

“We are all under pressure to make urgent and far-reaching decisions in an atmosphere of considerable scientific uncertainty,” she said.

 

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Reliable information on new flu critical – WHO chief

Obtaining reliable information on the different aspects of the influenza A(H1N1) infection is critical to make informed decisions on how to manage the outbreak and prepare for a possible global pandemic, the head of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today.