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Sunday 20th May 2018

World ill-prepared for bird flu

11th December 2007

The risk of a world-wide influenza pandemic is as great in late 2007 as it was in mid-2005, and the world is still poorly prepared, according to a new report.


The report, published jointly by the United Nations System Influenza Coordinator (UNSIC) and the World Bank, says most countries' pandemic preparedness plans pay scant attention to operational readiness at local level, or to cooperation plans with their neighbours.

It quoted the World Health Report 2007 as saying that “There will be an influenza pandemic, sooner or later� with the potential to result in millions of deaths and severe social, economic and humanitarian consequences.

It adds: "We have a unique opportunity to prepare for the pandemic now and to significantly mitigate its potential impact."

Initial progress has been made in the initial, emergency phase of the global response to avian influenza, type A virus H5N1.

Significant improvements have been seen in diagnostic and surveillance capacity globally. But it is still inadequate in a number of countries, particularly in Africa.

Based on data from 146 countries, the report was circulated at an international ministerial conference on bird flu, in New Delhi, India.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan warned delegates that the next pandemic would occur through adaptive mutations.

Scientists currently have no idea when and how the pandemic will occur, or whether the current high fatality rate of 61% in humans would be maintained, she said.

Chan also warned that national preparedness for an influenza pandemic must extend beyond the health and agricultural sectors and take into account maintenance of essential services such as food and public transport.

Experts have long warned that bird flu and other major health crises of animal origin could be worsened by climate change, and the increased risk of pathogens travelling over large distances in a very short period, due to modern air travel.

Further investment is needed to focus on prevention at the source - animals - and in developing countries.

David Nabarro, senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza, said that while many countries say they have developed national preparedness plans, their preparedness for a pandemic is still highly patchy, with insufficient attention to sectors other than health and their operational aspects.

The report identifies a need to expand from emergency, short-term responses to sustained medium- and longer-term strategies with an increased focus on bio-security in both family and commercial poultry production systems.

It stresses the importance of intensive responses in locations where there is continued transmission of avian influenza among poultry and where the virus is entrenched.

It also calls for the increased involvement of different economic and social sectors, as well as humanitarian organisations, in pandemic planning in order to mitigate the social, economic and humanitarian impact.

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