Something to sneeze at: global flu pandemic high on WHO's agenda

15 January 2019 - 13:10 By NIVASHNI NAIR
An Influenza virus illustration. WHO constantly monitors the circulation of influenza viruses to detect potential pandemic strains: 153 institutions in 114 countries are involved in global surveillance and response.
An Influenza virus illustration. WHO constantly monitors the circulation of influenza viruses to detect potential pandemic strains: 153 institutions in 114 countries are involved in global surveillance and response.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

The world will face another influenza pandemic, although no one knows when and how severe it will be, says the World Health Organisation.

The pandemic is high on WHO's agenda this year. 

The global health body on Monday said the anticipated global influenza pandemic was one of 10 threats identified in its five-year strategic plan. It said global defences against an influenza pandemic were only as effective as the weakest link in any country's health emergency preparedness and response system.

"WHO is constantly monitoring the circulation of influenza viruses to detect potential pandemic strains: 153 institutions in 114 countries are involved in global surveillance and response." 

Every year, the WHO recommends which strains should be included in the flu vaccine to protect people from seasonal flu.

"In the event that a new flu strain develops pandemic potential, WHO has set up a unique partnership with all the major players to ensure effective and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines and antiviral treatments, especially in developing countries," WHO said.  

The other threats are:

  • Air pollution and climate change, which kill 7-million people prematurely every year from diseases such as cancer, stroke, and heart and lung disease.
  • Noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, which are responsible for more than 70% of all deaths worldwide.
  • Fragile and vulnerable settings where protracted crises leave communities without basic care.
  • Antimicrobial resistance – the ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist these medicines – which doesn’t allow for infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis to be easily treated.
  • Ebola and other high-threat pathogens. The Democratic Republic of the Congo last year suffered two separate ebola outbreaks, both of which spread to cities of more than a million people.
  • Weak primary health care which does not provide comprehensive, affordable, community-based care.
  • Vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate, despite the availability of vaccines – currently threatening to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. 
  • Dengue, a mosquito-borne disease that causes flu-like symptoms and can be lethal and kill up to 20% of those with severe dengue, has been a growing threat for decades. 
  • HIV, which continues to rage. Nearly a million people every year die of HIV/Aids.   

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