Asian countries commit to an early response to the threat of an influenza pandemic

News release

Manila, 16 January 2006 – Asian countries threatened by avian influenza have outlined an action plan that could, under the right circumstances, contain the initial eruption of an influenza pandemic in the region. If this rapid reaction and containment is successful, it would spare the world millions of deaths and substantial social and economic disruption. At the same time, donor agencies and UN bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), committed themselves to support countries' containment efforts.

The action plan and commitments came at the end of the Japan-WHO Joint Meeting on Early Response to Potential Influenza Pandemic in Asia in Tokyo, Japan, on 12 and 13 January 2006.

Containment of an emerging influenza pandemic has never been attempted but modelling studies demonstrate that success is dependent upon the early detection and rapid reporting of signals that an influenza pandemic may have begun.

For this reason, many of the actions outlined at the meeting focused on strengthening public health infrastructure at the national, regional and global levels. To do this, delegates agreed that the top priorities for rapid response and containment capability are to enhance country, regional and global capacities in surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, risk assessment and public communications.

Specific actions finalized in the meeting called on WHO, countries, agencies and donors to:

  • Strengthen national capacities to detect and respond to the earliest signals of a potential pandemic and any other public health emergency.
  • Assist countries to develop or strengthen their local and national laboratory facilities so that early signals of a potential pandemic can be rapidly confirmed.
  • Establish a global influenza task force to act in an advisory role when assessing potential early signals of pandemic influenza.
  • Identify and address all practical issues including legal, logistical and operational issues to allow implementation of rapid containment.
  • Strengthen regional and global laboratory networks.
  • Draft a comprehensive strategy, supported by protocols and standard operating procedures for a rapid, coordinated and effective response.
  • Coordinate the development of an appropriate communication strategy, including outbreak communications and communications for behavioural change.
  • Train identified local and international experts in the concepts of rapid response and containment.

Japan and ASEAN countries in collaboration with WHO were asked to develop a detailed operational plan on stockpiles, including antivirals. Information on the operational plan is to be shared with other Asian countries.

All these steps will improve the possibility of containing a pandemic. At the same time, they will strengthen local, national and international abilities to respond to other public health emergencies of international concern.

Countries or areas represented in Tokyo were Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The WHO delegation was headed by Dr Shigeru Omi, Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

[More information]

For more information contact Mr Peter Cordingley, spokeman for the WHO Western Pacific Region, at (63 2) 528 9992 or email cordingleyp@wpro.who.int.

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