International Pledging Conference on Avian and Human Pandemic Influenza

Beijing, China
18 January 2006

Your Excellency Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Honourable Ministers, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning. It is a great pleasure to be here in Beijing. I extend our thanks to the Government of China for hosting this important meeting.

I thank also the European Commission and the World Bank for co-organizing this meeting. Individuals such as President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minster Paul Martin have spoken out. President George Bush has initiated the International Partnership, which WHO strongly supports. Individual governments, such as Japan, and groups of countries, such as APEC and the European Union, have all played a key role in putting this and other public health issues on the global agenda.

So, why are we here today?

Simply, to get funding for action in resource-poor countries. Money is not the answer to every question. But without it, little can be done.

Do we know what to do?

Yes. In a nutshell - we have to:

  • Reduce people's exposure to the virus
  • Strengthen the early warning system
  • Intensify rapid containment operations
  • Build capacity to cope with a pandemic, and
  • Coordinate global scientific research and development.

And how do we do it?

It has to be based on a good plan. Most of us have comprehensive plans. There is no time to be lost in putting them into action. In November, the 12 immediate next steps for animal and human health were jointly agreed with FAO and OIE. We set to work straight away on the five public health elements. The detailed strategic actions are in our plan for pandemic influenza for 2006-2007. These shape our work with countries and guide the evolution of each country's own plans.

What are the plans based on?

We draw on best practice everywhere. Our understanding of the avian flu virus H5N1 and its role in human health is evolving all the time. Each new case and each new outbreak is an opportunity to fine-tune the approach.

What have we learnt?

  • Vigilance, surveillance, and information sharing are paramount. Turkey's open sharing of virus samples with researchers is resulting in unique information about the virus. The recently announced UK analysis of viral gene sequencing and future such findings will support policy decisions.
  • The speed of response is critical to success. In Turkey, within one day, patient samples were collected, shipped, and received in the United Kingdom. The results were available within 24 hours. One hundred thousand treatment courses of oseltamivir were delivered one day after the first cases were confirmed. A team of WHO experts travelled to Turkey within one day of the request by the Government.
  • Keeping our populations informed is vital. We have seen how vulnerable children are to infection, as they play and sleep in close proximity to ducks and chickens. Communities need to understand what to do, and why, in the event of an outbreak. Countries that do not yet have endemic H5N1, must know what to look out for.

Each new outbreak has taught new lessons.

Thailand and Viet Nam provided essential information on clinical features. This expertise is shaping our advice to doctors in Turkey and neighbouring countries.

Rapid and thorough investigation of new cases in Indonesia has given us new clues about exposure risks.

The outbreaks in China showed how political commitment at the highest level allows even the largest countries to scale up surveillance and response systems.

Experience in Cambodia taught us that weak basic infrastructures restrict data collection and prevent the decisive action that comes from a clear picture.

We need to work together.

Next week, in Geneva, the Executive Board of WHO will discuss immediate voluntary compliance with the revised International Health Regulations. This is in advance of their official entry into force in June 2007.

Many meetings and a complex political process lie behind our presence together here today. This group must aggressively address funding gaps in country plans.

However, country needs must be met by national governments as well as by international pledges. This applies to all countries, without exception.

There must be visible improvement in control of avian influenza and pandemic preparedness by countries, technical agencies, and all others involved. It won't happen without money.

We all have much to do. We need your support to do it. Without resources we will only be able to follow events, never prevent them.

Thank you very much.