WHO strategy to fight flu pandemics

• The World Health Organization has launched a strategy to protect people worldwide over the next decade against the threat of influenza, warning that new pandemics are “inevitable”.

• The strategy meets one of WHO’s mandates to improve core capacities for public health, and increase global preparedness and was developed through a consultative process with input from Member States, academia, civil society, industry, and internal and external experts.

What are the need?

• Influenza epidemics, largely seasonal, affect around one billion people and kill hundreds of thousands annually. WHO describes it as one of the world’s greatest public health challenges.

• Through the implementation of the new WHO global influenza strategy, the world will be closer to reducing the impact of influenza every year and be more prepared for an influenza pandemic and other public health emergencies.

The strategy:

• WHO’s new strategy, for 2019 through 2030, aims to prevent seasonal influenza, control the virus’s spread from animals to humans and prepare for the next pandemic.

• It calls for every country to strengthen routine health programmes and to develop tailor-made influenza programmes that strengthen disease surveillance, response, prevention, control, and preparedness.

• It recommends annual flu vaccines as the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease, especially for healthcare workers and people at higher risk of influenza complications.

• It also calls for the development of more effective and more accessible vaccines and antiviral treatments.

Significance:

• The new strategy is the most comprehensive and far-reaching that WHO has ever developed for influenza. It outlines a path to protect populations every year and helps prepare for a pandemic through strengthening routine programmes. It has two overarching goals:

• Build stronger country capacities for disease surveillance and response, prevention and control, and preparedness. To achieve this, it calls for every country to have a tailored influenza programme that contributes to national and global preparedness and health security.

• Develop better tools to prevent, detect, control and treat influenza, such as more effective vaccines, antivirals and treatments, with the goal of making these accessible for all countries.

About Pandemic influenza:

• An influenza pandemic is a global epidemic caused by a new influenza virus to which there is little or no pre-existing immunity in the human population.

• Influenza pandemics are impossible to predict; and they may be mild, or cause severe disease or death. Severe disease may occur in certain risk groups, which may correspond to those at risk of severe disease due to seasonal influenza.

• However, healthy persons are also likely to experience more serious disease than that caused by seasonal influenza.

• The most recent pandemic occurred in 2009 and was caused by an influenza A (H1N1) virus. It is estimated to have caused between 100 000 and 400 000 deaths globally in the first year alone.

Way ahead

• Influenza pandemics, whether mild, moderate or severe, affect a large proportion of the population, which puts significant strains on health and other essential services and may result in significant economic losses.

• As an influenza pandemic may last months or even years, this requires a sustained response in the health sector but also in other sectors providing essential services, such as energy and food production.

• For this reason, countries develop multi-sectoral preparedness plans describing their strategies and operational plans for responding to a pandemic.

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important International institutions

Prelims Level: Highlights of the Strategy

Mains level: Enhancing preparedness against influenza

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