Pandemic threat deserves attention from all
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
Honourable ministers, distinguished experts, ladies and gentlemen,
I will be very brief. The prospect of an influenza pandemic rightly deserves the highest attention of governments, health ministries, public health officials, and industry.
Under the unique conditions of our highly mobile and closely interdependent societies, the threat of a pandemic deserves attention from many other sectors of government, and many other partners.
We are all under pressure to make urgent and far-reaching decisions in an atmosphere of considerable scientific uncertainty.
What we need most of all, right now, is information. We need information, at many levels of science, clinical medicine, and epidemiology, on the situation we are seeing today. We also need information to construct possible scenarios for the future. This, too, helps us assess and manage risks, and guides preparation measures.
I have convened this consultation to gather and share information.
We are fortunate that the countries with the most confirmed cases to date have already learned so much, and shared so much. All countries profit from this expression of solidarity.
Apart from safeguarding health, governments and health ministries need information for reliable communications with their citizens.
We have lived for five long years under the threat of a pandemic caused by the lethal H5N1 avian influenza virus. This has left our world better prepared, but also very scared.
The job of managing public perceptions and behaviours also falls on our shoulders. We need to warn the public when necessary, but reassure them whenever possible. This is a difficult balancing act.
I hope this consultation will clarify some issues at a time of great scientific uncertainty, yet tremendous pressure to make the right decisions.
I am now asking Dr Keiji Fukuda, our ADG for health security and the environment, and Dr John Mackenzie, who chairs the WHO Emergency Committee, to give you an overview of the current situation.
They will be followed by experts from Mexico, the United States of America, and Canada, who will further set the stage for your discussions by sharing their experiences to date.