27 July 2001
WHO PLANS NEW FIGHT AGAINST FLU
The World Health Organization (WHO) is today issuing a rallying call to scale up the fight against influenza, a potentially devastating disease that has been estimated to infect as many as 100 million people each year in the northern hemisphere alone. Far from being an innocuous “cold-like” infection, flu is a killer, causing approximately 20,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.
The virus which causes flu is highly contagious. One study of the most recent available evidence concluded that on average, one in ten adults and one in three children contract influenza every year. While most healthy people fully recover from the illness, hospitalisations and deaths among the elderly and chronically ill are of great concern.
Outbreaks of flu also have a serious economic impact wherever they occur, leading to severe pressure on public health systems, as well as extended absences from work and school.
Explosive outbreaks of influenza - typically lasting six to eight weeks - occur every year. And experts predict that it is only a matter of time before a brand new influenza strain emerges and sweeps across the planet causing a devastating pandemic. During the 1918 pandemic, up to a quarter of the world's population is estimated to have been infected and as many as 40 million people may have died.
Now, WHO is developing a Global Agenda on Influenza, which will help to set priorities and targets, a kind of worldwide “hit list” of activities to reduce the death and disease caused by annual epidemics of influenza. The first stage is a call for all those involved in monitoring, treating or studying outbreaks to identify the biggest problems they face and to propose possible ways to address them.
There is a particularly urgent need to tackle flu in developing countries, where it is often not perceived as a major public health problem. This is partly due to a lack of reliable information on the situation in developing countries. The Global Agenda is an opportunity to tackle this lack of vital data.
Other priority subject areas that are expected to be included on the Global Agenda are:
All those interested in influenza control who wish to provide input to the Global Agenda are invited to contribute - academics, policy makers, national drug licensing and other relevant agencies, donor agencies, the pharmaceutical industry, other private sector groups, those involved in advocacy and communication and international organizations and groups.
WHO expects to publish the Global Agenda on Influenza on the Internet later in 2001, so that it may be publicly discussed. The Agenda will then be continuously updated to take account of comments and the most up-to-date research, so that it can be an impartial guide to research and development for all those involved in the surveillance and control of influenza, in research and in health policy development.
For further information, journalists can contact Iain Simpson, Communicable Diseases programme, WHO, Geneva Tel (+41 22) 791 3215, E-mail: email@example.com All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.int/
How to provide input into the Global Agenda:
Contributions should be sent to WHO during the period 5 August to 7 September 2001.
Contributions should have two items:
1. Need: description of gaps or problem issues.
2. Projects/activities to address the identified need, including expected outcome. An indication of which priority level (1-highest; 5-lowest) should be assigned is requested. New subject areas and related projects and activities may also be suggested.
Example of contribution:
1. Problem: Difficulties in comparing/ranking the public health and economic impacts of Influenza with other health issues in developing countries with resulting problems in advocacy for strengthened surveillance; need for national policy development and pandemic preparation.
2. Project: Sentinel studies on the epidemiological and health and economical burdens of influenza in two countries in both Africa and Asia.
Expected outcome: Understanding of influenza epidemiology and burden (seasonality, strain variation, risk groups, morbidity, mortality and economic impact.)
Priority Level: 2
may be sent to:
Project Leader Influenza