WHO's A/H1N1 Decisions Based on Scientific Facts: Chief
    2009-05-29 16:28:15     Xinhua      Web Editor: Zhang Jin
 
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Margaret Chan said on Thursday the organization "respects science" when making decisions in dealing with the A/H1N1 flu outbreak and releases information based on facts.

"The primary function of the WHO is to respect science, to tell the story like it is," Chan told Xinhua in an interview.

"The WHO will not compromise global health, and that's a very important message," she said, stressing that the U.N. agency will not yield to the influence of any "powerful country" on such crucial matters as to whether to declare a pandemic.

Chan said the world currently is not in a full A/H1N1 pandemic, but is closer to a pandemic than last week.

"We are not in phase 6 yet. But we are closer to phase 6 today than we were last week," she said, referring to the highest level of the WHO's pandemic alert scale.

Chan said the WHO is following very closely the development of A/H1N1 flu in Europe, Asia as well as South America.

"We need to look at whether or not the criteria for phase 6 is met," she said.

According to the WHO's pandemic alert system, phase 6 means the A/H1N1 virus is causing sustained and community-level human-to-human transmission in regions outside of North America, so far the only region where the community-level outbreak has occurred.

But a number of countries have suggested that the WHO should consider not only the geographic spread of the disease but also its severity before declaring a full pandemic. So far the new virus has caused mainly mild infections in areas outside of Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Chan said the WHO "is receptive" to the concerns of those countries, but it needs to consult with experts to see how the criteria for declaring a pandemic might be adjusted.

"We need to consult with experts and see in what way we can indicate the nature and the severity of the illness without compromising, without forgetting the importance of the geographical spread," she said.

Chan also refuted allegations that the WHO had overacted to the A/H1N1 situation by quickly raising its pandemic alert level from phase 3 to phase 5 and warning that a pandemic "is imminent."

"I don't think that's the case. It's the duty of the WHO to act in accordance with the criteria set out by world scientists," she said.

"We need to warn other countries what's happening in Mexico and the United States. And precisely because of this early warning mechanism, other countries in Europe and Asia are able to mount preventive measures," she said.

Chan also reiterated the unpredictability of the A/H1N1 virus, warning governments and the public not to let down their guard.

"It's important for every government to prepare for serious conditions, so that their people recognize the government has done its job to protect their health," she said.

But Chan pointed out that the severity of the disease in an individual country "has to find it's own application," as every country is different in terms of economic development, health system and population structure.

So it is important for the WHO's 193 member states to make their own calibration in terms of response measures, she said.

"Whatever criteria we come up with, it is very difficult to find application in all 193 countries," Chan said.

But she said the WHO will continue to give support to its member countries, particularly the developing ones, that cannot afford to buy antiviral medicines and vaccines.

"The WHO is talking to a lot of wealthy countries, development banks, development partners, and is urging them to provide support to developing countries," she said.

"The WHO is also working with drug manufacturers and vaccine companies, urging them to allocate a certain percentage of their production for purchase by the organization for distribution to developing counties," Chan said.

As to when and whether the WHO will recommend manufacturers to start mass production of an A/H1N1 vaccine, Chan said a decision could be made in July.

"We hope to be able to make a decision some time in July to see whether or not the world needs to make preparation for an A/H1N1 vaccine," she said.

"We are working with our collaborating centers developing the seed virus (for vaccine making), so that they can be provided to the vaccine manufacturers when they are ready," Chan said.

She said that some countries are already investing in producing the first batch of A/H1N1 vaccines for clinical trials, but not for general public use.

"We must make sure they go through the properly designed clinical trials to find out whether they are safe and effective," Chan said.

She said the WHO recommends that vaccine manufacturers should still continue making seasonal influenza vaccines.

"It's important for us not to forget that the seasonal influenza virus can also cause a lot of diseases and it can also cause between one quarter to half million deaths worldwide every year," she said.

Chan said the WHO is still monitoring the evolution of the A/H1N1 virus, which has so far affected more than 50 countries and regions.

"If this A/H1N1 virus continues to be mild, we may see more deaths occurring from seasonal influenza than from A/H1N1. So it's important for us to balance the situation," Chan said.
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