We now have the text of a speech given today by the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan. In it she updates us on the rapidly evolving A/H1N1 flu situation.
“We do not know how long we have until we move to phase 6, which indicates we are in a pandemic. We are not there yet. . . .
. . . Global manufacturing capacity, though greatly increased, is still not sufficient to produce enough antiviral medication and pandemic vaccines to protect the entire world population in time.” – Dr. Margaret Chan
The speech is well worth reading in its entirety.
Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization
His Excellency, Mr Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, President of the General Assembly, Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations and your staff, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
First and foremost, let me thank Mr Secretary-General for inviting me to join this briefing. Let me thank the President for giving me this opportunity. I am speaking to you from the SHOC room in Geneva.
Our hearts go out to all people in all countries affected by the new H1N1 influenza virus.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me try to give you an overview of the current situation, of where we stand right now, and where the world may be heading.
Influenza pandemics are caused by a virus that is either entirely new or not known to have circulated among humans in recent decades. This means, in effect, that nearly everyone in the world is susceptible to infection. It is this almost universal vulnerability to infection that makes influenza pandemics so disruptive.
Large numbers of people falling ill can be highly disruptive to economies and to the functioning of routine medical services.
As of right now, WHO has received reports of 1003 confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza from 20 countries on four continents. I wish to thank all countries reporting H1N1 cases to WHO for their cooperation and transparency.
All countries have acted in a very responsible manner. A special thank you goes to Canada and the USA who, alongside WHO, have assisted Mexico, especially with laboratory testing.
The world is in phase 5 now. This means that we need to maintain a high level of vigilance and monitor further international spread of the virus, and further spread in countries that are already reporting cases.
We do not know how long we have until we move to phase 6, which indicates we are in a pandemic. We are not there yet. The criteria will be met when we see, in one region outside North America, clear evidence of community-level transmission.
Although we face many uncertainties, we do know some things, which I want to share with you now.
Some of this knowledge comes from the behaviour of past pandemics. Other knowledge is specific to the new H1N1 virus and comes from the cases we are seeing in different countries and a look at the virus in the laboratory.
This helps us understand the situation, right now. However, experience during past pandemics warns us that the initial situation can change in many ways, with many, many surprises.
Historically, influenza pandemics have encircled the globe in two, sometimes three, waves. During the previous century, the 1918 pandemic, the most deadly of them all, began in a mild wave and then returned in a far more deadly one. In fact, the first wave was so mild that its significance as a warning signal was missed.
As we are seeing, the world today is much more alert to such warning signals and much better prepared to respond.
The pandemic of 1957 began with a mild phase followed, in several countries, by a second wave with higher fatality. The pandemic of 1968 remained, in most countries, comparatively mild in both its first and second waves.
At this point, we have no indication that we are facing a situation similar to that seen in 1918. As I must stress repeatedly, this situation can change, not because we are overestimating or underestimating the situation, but simply because influenza viruses are constantly changing in unpredictable ways.
The only thing that can be said with certainty about influenza viruses is that they are entirely unpredictable. No one can say, right now, how the pandemic will evolve.