Director-General

High-Level Forum

Lunchtime session: Update on avian influenza and human pandemic influenza

Paris, France
14 November 2005

Voici quelques points essentiels.

Grippe saisonnière. Dans l'hémisphère nord, la période de la grippe saisonnière commence maintenant. Chaque année, le virus de la grippe est différent. Et chaque année un vaccin est mis au point contre la souche virale en cause. J'ai moi-même été vacciné récemment.

Grippe aviaire. La grippe aviaire se propage sans relâche. Les oiseaux migrateurs infectent les élevages de volailles autour de la planète. On a aussi enregistré 124 cas humains depuis décembre 2003, dont 63 mortels.

Grippe pandémique humaine. Aucune flambée de grippe pandémique humaine n'a encore été observée dans le monde. Mais il est clair qu'elle arrivera. Depuis son apparition à Hong Kong il y a huit ans, la grippe aviaire à virus H5 N1 hautement pathogène s'est étendue à 15 pays d'Asie et d'Europe.

Notre crainte est que la grippe aviaire pourrait être la source de la prochaine pandémie de grippe humaine.

Grippe pandémique. Quelle est la situation actuelle?

Une pandémie peut commencer quand trois conditions sont réunies:

  • un virus apparaît qui est nouveau pour l'homme;
  • il infecte l'homme et provoque des cas humains de maladie;
  • il se transmet facilement d'homme à homme.

Toutes ces conditions sont remplies sauf une: la transmission interhumaine efficace et durable du virus.

L'OMS a prévu six phases pour l'alerte à la pandémie. Dans la situation actuelle, nous en sommes à la phase trois.

More than 150 million birds, mostly chickens, have died or been culled. This limits the spread of the infection. It protects people from catching the virus from poultry. And this then reduces the chance for the virus to change into a pandemic influenza strain.

Why are we raising the alarm?

Because, once a new flu virus is able to infect humans easily and spread rapidly, it will cause a pandemic.

We don't know when this will happen. But we do know that it will happen. In the pandemics of 1958 and 1968, a combined total of 3 million people died. Those were considered to be mild pandemics.

In 2003, in the SARS epidemic, fewer than 800 people died. Yet the economic consequences have been assessed at more than 30 billion dollars worldwide. It was a major social, political, economic and health event. The World Bank has estimated that the economic impact of a pandemic of influenza now would cost more than 800 billion dollars.

If we are unprepared, the next pandemic will cause incalculable human misery. Both directly from the loss of human life, and indirectly through its widespread impact on security. No society would be exempt. No economy would be left unscathed.

This is a grim picture. But last week in Geneva we reached international consensus that this is a real threat. This is the time for every country to prepare their national action plan - and act on it.

Some countries are better able than others to prevent the spread of avian flu to their poultry flocks, by using vaccination against H5N1, or by sheltering domestic stock from infectious migratory birds.

We are not able, at present, to say the same for pandemic influenza. Every country, every population, is at risk for infection with pandemic influenza, whether or not it has sick poultry.

What is the plan?

In January next year, we will be meeting in China to source funding for the needs identified at last week's meeting in Geneva. If those funds are insufficient, we will be looking to you to fill the gaps!

In terms of present resources, we have a commitment from Roche to provide 3 million courses of Tamiflu antiviral medication in an international stockpile. This, together with other response measures, would be rapidly deployed to treat outbreaks of infection and contain its spread.

In last week's meeting, we discussed precise recommendations for action. The imperative now is to get these points quickly into practice, especially in the countries already affected by avian flu, and to get preparedness plans up and running in every single country.

I would like now to hand over to Dr David Nabarro, Senior UN Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza to review the detailed action points.

Thank you.

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