Published: Wed, March 13, 2019
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

World must prepare for inevitable next flu pandemic, WHO says

World must prepare for inevitable next flu pandemic, WHO says

Launching on Monday its Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030, the world body said the next influenza pandemic "is a matter of when, not if". "We must be vigilant and prepared - the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention".

"Another influenza pandemic is inevitable", the United Nations health agency said, adding that "in this interconnected world, the question is not if we will have another pandemic, but when".

Of those infections, around 3 to 5 million are severe cases, leading to between 290,000 and 650,000 seasonal flu-related respiratory deaths.

The Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030 is the most comprehensive and far-reaching that the World Health Organization has ever developed for influenza, which outlines a path to protect populations every year and helps prepare for a pandemic through strengthening routine programs.

"The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present", Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, said in a statement.

To reach such an ambitious target, Ghebreyesus highlights worldwide cooperation as paramount to the success of the strategy, in order to avoid a repeat of the H1N1 (Swine flu) pandemic of 2009 and 2010.

The new World Health Organization influenza strategy builds on the more-than-65-year-old Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, the backbone of the global alert system for influenza, and the on-going Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework, a unique access and benefit sharing system that helps sharing potentially pandemic viruses, providing access to vaccines and treatments in the event of a pandemic, and building pandemic preparedness capacities in countries.

Due to its mutating strains, vaccine formulas must be regularly updated and only offer limited protection now.

Flu viruses are multiple and ever-changing, and they infect around a billion people every year around the world in seasonal outbreaks.

"This strategy aims to get us to that point".

A big problem is that a pandemic strain has to be identified before a new vaccine can go into production, and that could take weeks or months.However, WHO officials say research is underway to speed up this process.

It insisted its new strategy would also have benefits beyond the fight against influenza, since it would also increase detection of other infectuous diseases, including Ebola.

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