WHO urges nations to prepare for Influenza amidst Coronavirus pandemic

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Photo taken on Jan. 22, 2020 shows an exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO on Wednesday night extended to Thursday its emergency talks on whether the novel coronavirus outbreak in China constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). (Xinhua/Liu Qu)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the world must not lose sight of significant public health issues like influenza which affects every country every year and takes its own deadly toll.

“As we enter the southern hemisphere, influenza season and begin planning for the northern hemisphere season, we must ensure that influenza remains a top priority,” it said

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO said in his opening remarks to the media on COVID-19 that the co-circulation of COVID-19 and influenza can worsen the impact on health care systems that are already overwhelmed.

More than 500 million people are vaccinated against flu every year, based on recommendations from WHO on the composition of flu vaccines.

These recommendations are based on data and virus samples collected and analyzed by WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS).

The GISRS system has been functioning since 1952 and more than 125 countries participate in it.
Over the past eight years, significant strengthening of the system has been made possible through the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework with support from public and private sector partners.

Dr Ghebreyesus said the infrastructure, people, skills and experience built up through GISRS, WHO Collaborating Centres, and national influenza centres have been the foundation for detecting COVID-19.

He observed that the Influenza surveillance has either been suspended or is declining in many countries, with a sharp decline in sharing of influenza information and viruses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Director General said the WHO has published guidance on how to integrate surveillance for COVID-19 into routine influenza surveillance as an efficient way to track both of these important respiratory viruses.

This is according to him not only cost-effective, but essential for protecting the world against the next flu season.
He said globally, more than 7.8 million cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO, with over 430,000 deaths.

Dr Ghebreyesus said it took more than two months for the first 100,000 cases to be reported, saying ‘For the past two weeks, more than 100,000 new cases have been reported almost every single day’.

He stated that almost 75 per cent of Coronavirus cases recorded recently were from 10 countries, mostly in America and South Asia.

However, there are increasing numbers of cases in Africa, Eastern Europe, central Asia and the Middle East.
He stressed that countries that demonstrated the ability to suppress transmission, must also stay alert to the possibility of resurgence.

Last week, China reported a new cluster of cases in Beijing, after more than 50 days without a case in that city.
More than 100 cases have now been confirmed.

The origin and extent of the outbreak are being investigated.

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