The World Health Organization has released its Global Influenza Strategy for 2019-2030, which provides a framework “for WHO, countries and partners to approach influenza holistically through robust national programs – from surveillance to disease prevention and control – with the goal of strengthening seasonal prevention and control and preparedness for future pandemics.” According to the WHO, another influenza pandemic is likely, if not imminent, given our global and interconnected world. Many WHO experts believe a severe influenza pandemic could be the most devastating health event to ever occur, with worldwide consequences.
A pandemic of any kind would kill thousands or millions around the world, and would have a devastating effect on global economies and infrastructure. A moderately severe pandemic, for example, could have a potential global economic impact of US$ 500 Billion, or .6% of global income. By contrast, the cost of adequately preparing for a global pandemic is estimated at US$4.5 Billion, or less than US$1 per person per year. Unfortunately, according to the WHO, most countries have grossly underprepared for—and underinvested in—infrastructure designed to mitigate a pandemic crisis. The WHO strategy is, in effect, a call to action for all countries to prioritize the implementation of influenza programs to prevent a global pandemic.
The WHO strategy’s goals are to: 1. Reduce the burden of seasonal influenza; 2. Minimize the risk of zoonotic influenza; and 3. Mitigate the impact of pandemic influenza. The strategy is designed to address outbreak-related challenges, including the development of better global tools such as vaccines, antivirals, and treatments; and the development of stronger national plans designed to more fully address national healthcare security planning and improve health coverage capacities. More specifically, the WHO aims at new research and innovation in better preventative tools and medicine to treat influenza, and at programs that individual countries can adopt to more adequately address the disease before and as it appears. According to the WHO, knowledge gaps in understanding the virus and its hosts’ response exist, which need to be addressed to lower disease mortality and morbidity rates. Per the report, “Without more effective antiviral drugs and vaccines with stronger, broader and longer lasting immunity, countries will struggle to acquire public confidence and fully implement their influenza prevention, control and preparedness efforts.”
The strategy also aims at strengthening global influenza monitoring, which will be designed to generate data and information to be used by policy makers. Such data would be used to help bridge the gap between the policy makers and their constituent communities to understand risk-mitigation needs, and to increase community buy-in and confidence to pandemic preparedness initiatives. Further, the strategy aims to improve and increase seasonal influenza prevention efforts. As countries prepare for the seasonal flu, WHO posits, they will invariably prepare for potential pandemic-level influenza outbreaks as well. The idea, then, is to protect at-risk groups from flu infections, and to contribute to universal health coverage initiatives to prevent and control a disease outbreak of any proportion.
Finally, the strategy will work to strengthen pandemic preparedness and response initiatives in regional, national, and global sectors around the world. The WHO encourages collaborative, cross-border efforts to ensure a more thorough global response to an influenza pandemic, and that countries integrate the strategy’s priorities into their own influenza preparedness policies to attain the highest possible level of prevention.
To read the full WHO Global Influenza Strategy 2019-2030, click here.
Jon Hamilton earned his Master’s Degree in Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases from Georgetown University. He was briefly involved in Healthcare Association of Hawaii’s Ebola Virus Disease Prevention working group during the 2014 EVD outbreak. He has also worked with and done research for infectious disease physicians in Honolulu and at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. When Jon is not researching or writing, he can be found surfing in sunny San Diego, California, where he currently resides. Jon can be reached on LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.