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  • A child is vaccinated against H1N1 in Marseille, France.

    A child is vaccinated against H1N1 in Marseille, France. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 March 2019

The goal of this new strategy is to prevent seasonal influenza, control its spread from animals to humans, and prepare for the next global pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) released Monday their “Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030” aimed at protecting people in all countries from the threat of influenza and a possible pandemic. 

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The goal of this new strategy is to prevent seasonal influenza, control its spread from animals to humans, and prepare for the next global outbreak. “The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, adding that the risk of a pandemic is real as now “the question is not if, but when.” 

The organization stated their new approach is the most comprehensive and far-reaching ever developed to combat the virus.  It outlines a path to protect populations every year and helps prepare for a pandemic through strengthening routine programs, with two goals. 

First, it aims to build stronger capacities for disease surveillance and response, prevention and control, and preparedness through tailored programs according to the country’s needs. Secondly to develop better means to accomplish the first goal,  such as more effective vaccines, antivirals, and treatments.

“We must be vigilant and prepared as the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention,” said Adhanom.

As of 2019, influenza remains one of the world’s greatest public health dangers. In 2018, the illness topped WHO’s list of threats for global health, over cholera and natural disasters. Every year across the globe, there are an estimated one billion cases, resulting in 290,000 to 650,000 related deaths. These are caused by a virus that attacks mainly the upper respiratory tract, the nose, throat, bronchi and- in rare cases- the lungs.

The world has experienced three majors outbreaks of influenza in the 20th century: in 1918, 1957, and 1968. The first, known as the Spanish Influenza, was the deadliest as it predated the modern era of virology. Its worldwide spread killed as many as 40 million people. 

The two latter originated in Asia and killed approximately four million people. They are now known to represent three different antigenic subtypes of influenza A virus: H1N1, H2N2, and H3N2, respectively. However, the 2009 H1N1 outbreak provided a glimpse of how a modern pandemic could suddenly happen but also how public health officials could respond to it. 

It is for this reason that for more than 65 years, the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), comprised of WHO Collaborating Centers and national influenza centers, have worked together to monitor seasonal trends and potentially pandemic viruses, preparing for the next virus mutation. 

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