Handover of "Rapid Response Stockpile" for pandemic influenza containment

Roche warehouse facility
19 April 2006

Chairman Humer,

Good morning.

I want to thank Roche for this donation. It is one important component of a plan to control a new influenza virus.

The risks of an influenza pandemic continue. H5N1, the avian influenza virus, is spreading. Outbreaks in birds have been found in 42 countries. People in nine countries have become ill or died from the virus. The longer this virus is widespread among poultry and is in contact with humans, the greater the chance it changes into a type which spreads easily from person to person. One important signal of a potential human influenza pandemic would be seeing clusters of people sick with H5N1. WHO would investigate these clusters quickly, and immediately test the virus for changes.

If we believe a pandemic is beginning, we would be ready to pounce on it, to try to slow or stop the spread of the virus. We have a plan to do this. We have developed this rapid response and containment plan for human pandemic influenza.

The containment plan is based on public health practice, science and the experience gained from our work fighting diseases and the current avian influenza outbreaks.

The plan includes many components. These consist of heightened surveillance, to find and report cases; the isolation of people who are infected; and the quarantine of those who have been exposed. Exceptional measures may need to be taken. For example, closing schools and other public places. Treating people for illness, and slowing or stopping further spread of the virus with the help of antivirals will also be key. Behind me, here, is one very important component of this plan.

Should WHO determine there is potential for an influenza pandemic, some or all of the antivirals behind me now would be sent immediately to an international airport closest to the site of the outbreak. Timing will be everything. Containment has a chance to work if antivirals reach the infected area rapidly, no more than 21 days after the first case.

Given the possible human, social, and economic costs of a pandemic, we cannot afford to fail.

I also want to thank Roche for the two million treatment courses it is making available to WHO for use in the countries that need it, as we continue to fight the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

Roche has also recently helped to quickly send oseltamivir to countries in urgent need.

Countries continue to need assistance to prepare for an influenza pandemic. The international community must ensure that people in the poorest countries have access to the means to protect their health. This stockpile is one important contribution.

Thank you

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