The Third European Influenza Conference organized by the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza took place in Vilamoura Portugal recently.. Top influenza experts, policy makers, opinion leaders, journalists, doctors, professors gathered at this international summit focussing on how to prepare for the constantly changing threat of an influenza pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes the world is now closer to another influenza pandemic at any time since the last outbreak in 1968.
The possibility is a pandemic (H5N1) threat having a reported case fatality rate above 60%.
During the 20th century there have been three influenza pandemics resulting in massive losses of life, profound social disruption and economic losses worldwide.
One of the common aspects of Spanish influenza was the speed with which people succumbed to the disease. It was not only the elderly that were affected. Mortality rates among young health adults were high in the 1957 Asian influence, the death toll worldwide was about 1 million. In the 1968 Hong Kong influenza pandemic referred to as the mildest, approximately 700,000 people died worldwide. The development of vaccines and historical experiences from the previous pandemics certainly curtailed the spread of this pandemic.
WHO ‘s prediction that the world is on the brink of another global pandemic spread with H5N1 type of avian influenza as the likely source has alarmed the world.
Influenza AH5NI virus is essentially an avian virus which is transmitted to humans by close contact with infected birds. Most avian influenza viruses do not infect humans but should an avian and a human influenza virus co-infect a human or an animal species the opportunity arises for resortment of the virus to create a completely new strain which may be transmittable from human to human. Vaccines developed and administered todate would be ineffective against the new strain leaving the population vulnerable to infection.
Experts predict the impact of the next pandemic however is likely to be the greatest in low income countries due to less developed health care systems
Then how do government’s prepare for such a pandemic?
Professor Albert Osterhaul, Chairman of ESWI, says "Influenza is recognised as a major threat to society unless we take the necessary measures to increase the overall preparedness for seasonal influenza we will not able to successfully respond to an influenza pandemic.
Hence pandemic influenza is a global threat with the H5N1 strain presenting the greatest danger. Modern day societies has seen a rapid increase in global transportation, urbanisation and overcrowded condition all of which will contribute to the rapid exacerbation of any new influenza pandemic around the world.
As the outbreak of pandemic influenza is inevitable as predicted by the WHO Governments have to act in advance of a pandemic by developing comprehensive preparedness plans and consider stockpiling influenza vaccines to treat the population in the event of major outbreak
In the event of a actual outbreak it is estimated it would take weeks or months for the influenza to spread across the globe. Governments will need to act quickly. The pressure for governments to vaccinate their entire population at short notice means there will be an urgent need for cost effective protection that can be implemented before the start of the pandemic and vaccines should lasts throughout the pandemic.
GlaxcoSmith Kline (GSK) have recognized the need to improve vaccine technology and to be well prepared to meet the high demand at the onset of a pandemic outbreak in the near future to be .
prepared for the next influenza pandemic.
It is impossible to anticipate when this pandemic will strike but those WHO along with experts and pharmaceutical companies are working hard to encourage national governments to plan for its imminent arrival. It is essential national governments priorities pandemic planning and accelerate this process to ensure their citizens are protected. This pressure for governments to vaccinate their entire population at short notice mean there is an urgent need for cost effective protection that can be implemented. GlaxcoSmith Kline (GSK) have recognized this need to improve vaccine technology to be well prepared to meet the high demand in advance at the onset of a pandemic outbreak.
The WHO recognises that in the event of a pandemic the virus will spread rapidly with no time to prepare, vaccines and treatments such as antiviral agents, and antibodies will be in short supply and unevenly disturbed. It will take several months before a vaccine that match the pandemic strain becomes available to protect the population. Widespread illness may result due to sudden shortages of personnel to maintain essential community services.
Lessons have been from past pandemics that crippled the world in the twentieth century. The WHO estimates it may take at least nine to 12 months to develop and market a completely new vaccine, but by that time millions would have died.
GSK offers a highly cost effective way of protecting the population by manufacturing of cures. Prepandrix GlaxoSmith Kline’s (GSK) H5N1 vaccine could be targetted to produce millions of doses in the month following pandemic strain identification. This vaccine is a cost effective solution to governments concerned to protect their population for longer periods with the same dose of pandemic or prepandemic influenza vaccine.
Now it has become a major concern for governments and political leaders alike
Preparing for a pandemic influenza outbreak is gaining prominence among political leaders, too. This qoate from Barack Okama proves the point.
"When we think of the major threats to our national security, the first to come to mind are nuclear proliferation, rogue states and global terrorism. But another threat lurks beyond our shores, one from nature, not humans - an Avian flu pandemic: Barack Obama, Democratic Presidential Candidate, USA.