WHO welcomes pandemic influenza response modelling papers
The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes the pandemic influenza response modelling papers published in the journals Science and Nature this week. This is work done by expert scientists using two different sets of assumptions. The models provide additional information which will help WHO and public health officials in our Member States to improve pandemic influenza preparedness planning.
Both papers suggest that a combination of early, targeted use of antiviral medicines and social distancing (measures such as cancelling mass gatherings and closing schools) can stop a pandemic, or at least slow its spread. There would be significant practical challenges to implementing such measures, but the enormous social trauma and human suffering that an influenza pandemic could inflict creates an obligation to thoroughly explore all proposals to limit this damage.
Several countries have already purchased stockpiles of antiviral drugs and WHO has taken steps to establish an international stockpile. National and international stockpiles of antiviral drugs may be an essential component of comprehensive international pandemic preparedness, that also includes vaccine development and disease surveillance.
If we have a chance to reduce the scale of a pandemic with antivirals and other public health measures, the success of these interventions will depend on effective disease surveillance and early reporting in risk-prone countries. Before any stockpile can be used effectively, both must be strengthened.