ASEAN - UN Summit
Will there be a human influenza pandemic? There will. There is only one condition missing - a virus that is rapidly transmitted from person to person.
When will it come? We do not know, but the new virus could appear anytime.
What is the expected political, social and economic cost? It will be huge. No Government or Head of State can afford to be caught off guard. There were between 20 and 50 million deaths in the 1918 flu pandemic. The pandemic in the 1950s was mild, killing 5 million. Remember - there were less than 1000 cases of SARS throughout the whole outbreak.
Where will it start? The pandemic is most likely to start in one of the ASEAN nations, because they experience outbreaks of avian flu. The pandemic flu virus in humans is most likely to be a mutation of the avian flu virus H5N1.
Who has prevented the pandemic from starting so far? Small farmers in the ASEAN region have made huge sacrifices by culling their chickens when farms were infected. They were under-compensated: sometimes they were not compensated at all. Theirs is the single biggest contribution to the prevention of a human flu pandemic.
We have to keep a look out for a change in the pattern of human flu cases. We must detect clusters of cases and identify human to human transmission at the earliest stage possible. Each country - each community - needs public health early warning systems that work.
We must pounce on human flu outbreaks with medicines and quarantine measures. We want to contain the pandemic, or at least slow its spread, at the earliest possible moment.
What is needed? Every country must have a national pandemic control plan. Every country needs a communications strategy, to prevent panic by educating the public about pandemic flu: what it is, and what it is not. Every government must be able to respond rapidly and effectively when the time comes.
International collaboration is essential for success, especially in the ASEAN region. WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the rest of the United Nations system are ready to help. WHO has issued guidelines for national control plans. WHO has a stockpile of 30 million Tamiflu capsules through an agreement with Roche. They will be used to strike the initial outbreak.
Every country must act now: when the pandemic starts it will be too late to prepare.