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Intergovernmental Meeting on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness


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Opening remarks at the Intergovernmental Meeting on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness

Geneva, Switzerland

15 May 2009

Sharing of influenza viruses, access to vaccines and other benefits

Dr Margaret Chan

Director-General of the World Health Organization


History is being made at these meetings. I would have liked to have been there. I respect Dr. Chan. She knows the score, and what is at stake.

For five long years, countries in several parts of the world have been closely responding to outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza in animals, and sporadic cases in humans.

I thank health officials, clinicians, and scientists in all these countries, and the many experts and laboratories located elsewhere, for their unflagging vigilance and diligence in keeping close watch over this virus.

Today, we know that a virus with great pandemic potential, the new strain of the H1N1 virus, has emerged from another source on another side of the world. This virus has quickly demonstrated its capacity to spread easily from one person to another, to spread widely within an affected country, and to spread rapidly to additional countries.

We expect this pattern of international spread to continue.

Outside Mexico, where the outbreak is not yet fully understood, the overwhelming majority of cases have been mild and self-limiting, with no need for treatment. Cases of severe or fatal infections have been largely, but not exclusively, confined to people with underlying chronic conditions.

We do not know if this partly reassuring picture will be maintained.

... scientists are concerned about possible changes that could take place as the virus spreads to the southern hemisphere and encounters currently circulating human viruses, as the normal influenza season in this hemisphere begins.

Second, as all of you know, the H5N1 avian influenza virus is endemic in poultry in some parts of the world. It is out there, entrenched. No one can predict how the H5N1 virus will behave under the pressure of a pandemic.

I keep thinking about how our medical system just went through another round of downsizing in the last year. It is not ready for even a moderate flu season like the one in 1999/2000. It is stocking drugs and the real problem might be a lack of people to distribute them. A lot of the nurses on this site were NOT RNs or LPNs during the pandemic of 1999/2000. They have no idea of how bad it can get. By bad I mean no matter how many patients there are they just make what ever staff they have care for them. Like I said the last pandemic was 9 years ago and it was not the worst by far that it can get. I actually quit half way through it and took three years off because I was so fed up. Back then the site was more mixed and international. I remember the crys of distress from nurses all over the world. We here in USA were in much better shape as far as capacity then. In the last 9 years they have done nothing but down size and reduce capacity. I got the feeling the most frequent post will change from "I can't find a job" to "I quit".

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