Building stronger capacities for influenza surveillance and developing better tools for its prevention and treatment are two major goals of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new global influenza strategy for the next ten years, the agency announced.
The WHO announced the plan on Monday. Its objectives include not only strengthening influenza prevention and control, but better preparation for future pandemics.
“The [ongoing] risk of a new influenza virus transmitting from animals to humans and potentially causing a pandemic is real,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, in a statement. “The question is not if we will have another pandemic, but when. We must be vigilant and prepared – the cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention.”
In order to be fully prepared for this event, the WHO report calls on every country worldwide to scale up their influenza programs. These programs should be fully integrated within national health security planning and universal health coverage efforts, the authors said, and the WHO will work closely with countries to improve their capacities to prevent and control influenza.
The report emphasizes the role that individual countries will have in this effort: “a country-level approach and country ownership are vital for ensuring sustainability of national influenza [programs].”
Not surprisingly, development of better tools to prevent and control influenza — such as vaccines, antivirals, and other treatments — are the other major cornerstone of these new goals. Once again, the WHO emphasized the importance of making these interventions available to all countries.
“With the partnerships and country-specific work we have been doing over the years, the world is better prepared than ever before for the next big outbreak, but we are still not prepared enough,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Fundamentally, it is about preparing health systems to manage shocks, and this only happens when health systems are strong and healthy themselves.”
As part of this strategy, the WHO will expand its partnerships to expand research, innovation, and availability of “new and improved” tools to fight influenza. Also noted in the report is the hope that these efforts will help instill “public confidence and uptake.”
The authors cited the continued success of the current Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, characterizing it as the “backbone of the global alert system on influenza,” though it hopes to “integrate broader controls for prevention, control and preparedness for all countries.” They said that since the (H1N1) 2009 pandemic year, the WHO has implemented “considerable changes so it is better prepared to respond to pandemics,” citing the development of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme after the 2013-2016 Ebola crisis.
They added that this new influenza strategy is aligned with the goals of WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work. Moreover, they said that this new influenza strategy could have added public health benefits for the surveillance of other disease, such as Ebola or Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus, the authors said.