UN: Pandemic preparedness pays off, but threat remains

Jun 18, 2008 (CIDRAP News) – David Nabarro, influenza coordinator for the United Nations (UN), said during a press conference yesterday that the world is better prepared to respond to an influenza pandemic, but he added that continuing outbreaks in some countries are a reminder that a major threat remains.

"The situation is really improving. It doesn't mean that we can say the situation is completely under control—we have the situation in countries where it is still quite entrenched—but it does mean that in the rest of the world there is a great deal of vigilance and action under way," said Nabarro in a UN press release. He shared his global pandemic assessment with reporters at the UN's New York City headquarters yesterday.

Praise as well as concern
He praised South Korea and the United Kingdom for how quickly they brought recent H5N1 outbreaks under control, and credited Australia and the United States with conducting pandemic exercises aimed at testing the resiliency of their financial sectors.

Nabarro pointed out that the financial sector exercises show that it's not necessarily expensive to prepare for a pandemic and that such strategies could help countries prepare for other types of threats.

Nabarro also said many governments have aggressively invested in improving poultry biosecurity and have focused efforts on the link between animal and human diseases.

Other notable achievements include the work that the World Tourism Organization has done to spearhead preparedness in travel and tourism industries and updates that the World Health Organization has made to its international health regulations and pandemic preparedness guidance, Nabarro said.

However, he said that the UN was very concerned that the virus is still entrenched in nations such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and Indonesia, and, to some extent, Nigeria.

"We remain very concerned about Indonesia, where the disease seems to be concentrated among poultry, particularly in Western Java, and we're also seeing the largest numbers of human cases," Nabarro said in the press release.

National governments have pledged $2.7 billion to the UN over the past 3 or 4 years, he said, adding that countries have not earmarked their donations toward particular sectors, which helps the agency allocate the money toward animal and human health initiatives, as needed.

Planning for global conference
Preparations are under way for a global conference on the H5N1 virus and pandemic preparedness, Nabarro told reporters. The meeting will be held in October in Egypt. Representatives from UN agencies, the World Bank, and the Egyptian government will meet in July in Cairo to flesh out plans for the meeting.

A likely outcome of the meeting will be a review of each country's response to and preparation for avian influenza events and a better understanding of the private sector's role as a partner in planning, he said.

FAO: Stay vigilant in Cambodia
In other developments, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Cambodia's agriculture ministry warned today that Cambodia must be vigilant about preventing and identifying H5N1 outbreaks, given that the country borders Vietnam and Thailand, which continue to experience outbreaks.

Etienne Careme, the FAO's emergency program coordinator, said in a statement today that, although Cambodia hasn't had an outbreak since April 2007, serious risks remain and that the FAO, the United States, and Germany will continue efforts to boost the government's laboratory capacity, improve farm and market biosecurity, and maintain disease surveillance.

The agriculture ministry and the FAO have hosted public awareness meetings since April that have drawn 4,000 people from 25 villages, the FAO statement said.

See also:

Jun 17 UN press release

Jun 17 UN press conference statement

Jun 18 FAO statement

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