WHO launches strategy to fight ‘inevitable’ flu pandemics

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, above, said there is always a threat of a flu pandemic. (AFP/File)
Updated 11 March 2019

WHO launches strategy to fight ‘inevitable’ flu pandemics

  • WHO chief said prevention expenses are much less compared to what a possible flu pandemic could cost
  • Latest pandemic of swine flu killed around 18,500 people globally

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Monday launched a strategy to protect people worldwide over the next decade against the threat of influenza, warning that new pandemics are “inevitable.”
Influenza epidemics, largely seasonal, affect around one billion people and kill hundreds of thousands annually, according to WHO, which describes it as one of the world’s greatest public health challenges.
WHO’s new strategy, for 2019 through 2030, aims to prevent seasonal influenza, control the virus’s spread from animals to humans and prepare for the next pandemic, WHO said.
“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
The world has suffered through a number of devastating influenzas pandemics, including the Spanish Flu, which in 1918 killed tens of millions of people globally.
Three pandemics have occurred since — in 1957, 1968 and in 2009 — when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic claimed around 18,500 lives in 214 countries.
“Another influenza pandemic is inevitable,” the UN health agency said, adding that “in this interconnected world, the question is not if we will have another pandemic, but when.”
Launching the new strategy, the WHO chief stressed the need for vigilance and preparation.
“The cost of a major influenza outbreak will far outweigh the price of prevention,” he said.
While pandemic preparedness is estimated to cost less than $1 per person per year, WHO said responding to a pandemic costs roughly 100 times that amount.
The new strategy called for every country to strengthen routine health programs and to develop tailor-made influenza programs that strengthen disease surveillance, response, prevention, control, and preparedness.
WHO recommends annual flu vaccines as the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease, especially for health care workers and people at higher risk of influenza complications.
It also called for the development of more effective and more accessible vaccines and antiviral treatments.
Due to its mutating strains, vaccine formulas must be regularly updated and only offer limited protection currently.
But Martin Friede, WHO’s vaccines coordinator, urged broader use of seasonal vaccines, which help protect vulnerable populations but also help prepare countries to rapidly deploy vaccines in the case of a pandemic.
“In a perfect world, everyone would be vaccinated,” Friede told reporters in Geneva.
Tedros said progress in recent years had made the world better prepared than ever for the next big influenza outbreak.
“But we are still not prepared enough. This strategy aims to get us to that point,” he said.
WHO said it would expand partnerships to increase research, innovation and availability of new and improved vaccines and other tools to fight influenza.
It insisted its new strategy would also have benefits beyond the fight against influenza, since it would also increase detection of other infectious diseases, including Ebola.


India reimposes movement curbs on parts of Kashmir’s main city after clashes

Updated 6 min 12 sec ago

India reimposes movement curbs on parts of Kashmir’s main city after clashes

  • There were violent overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured
  • India has been fighting a revolt in which at least 50,000 people have been killed

SRINAGAR: Indian authorities reimposed restrictions on movement in major parts of Kashmir’s biggest city, Srinagar, on Sunday after violent overnight clashes between residents and police in which dozens were injured, two senior officials and eyewitnesses said.
In the past 24 hours, there has been a series of protests against New Delhi’s Aug. 5 revocation of the region’s autonomy. This followed an easing in curbs on movement on Saturday morning.
The state government has said that it has not imposed a curfew over the past two weeks, but on Sunday people were being turned back at multiple roadblocks set up in the city in the past few hours. Security forces at some roadblocks have told residents there is a curfew.
Two senior government officials told Reuters that at least two dozen people were admitted to hospitals with pellet injuries after violent clashes broke out in the old city on Saturday night.
Representatives in the Jammu and Kashmir government in Srinagar and the federal government in New Delhi did not immediately return calls asking about the latest clampdown or seeking an assessment of the number of injuries and clashes.
One of the official sources said that people pelted security forces with stones in around two dozen places across Srinagar. He said that the intensity of the stone pelting protests has increased over past few days.
The heavy overnight clashes took place mostly in Rainawari, Nowhetta and Gojwara areas of the old city where Indian troops fired tear smoke, chilly grenades and pellets to disperse protesters, eyewitnesses and officials said.
Chilly grenades contain very spicy chili pepper, and produce a major eye and skin irritant, as well as a pungent smell, when they are unleashed.
The officials, who declined to be identified because they aren’t supposed to talk to the media, said clashes also took place in other parts of the city including Soura, a hotbed of protests in the past two weeks.
A senior government official and hospital authorities at Srinagar’s main hospital said that at least 17 people came there with pellet injuries. They said 12 were discharged while five with grievous injuries were admitted.
The hospital officials and a police officer told Reuters that a 65-year-old man, Mohammad Ayub of Braripora, was admitted to the hospital after he had major breathing difficulties when tear gas and chilly grenades were fired in old city area on Saturday afternoon. He died in the hospital on Saturday night and has already been buried, they said.
Javed Ahmad, age 35 and from the wealthy Rajbagh area of Srinagar, was prevented from going to the old city early Sunday morning by paramilitary police at a barricade near the city center. “I had to visit my parents there. Troops had blocked the road with concertina wire. They asked me to go back as there was curfew in the area,” he said.
Telephone landlines were restored in parts of the city on Saturday after a 12-day blackout and the state government said most telephone exchanges in the region would start working by Sunday evening. Internet and cell phones remain blocked in Kashmir.
More than 500 political or community leaders and activists remained in detention, and some have been flown to prisons outside the state.
For 30 years in the part of Kashmir that it controls, India has been fighting a revolt in which at least 50,000 people have been killed. Critics say the decision to revoke autonomy will cause further alienation and fuel the armed resistance.
The change will allow non-residents to buy property in Jammu and Kashmir, and end the practice of reserving state government jobs for local residents.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said the measure is necessary to integrate Kashmir fully into India and speed up its development.