Health ministers' meeting mulls over preparedness for winter surge in flu cases

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, September 9, 2009
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Health ministers from 11 member countries of World Health Organization (WHO)'s South-East Asia region and WHO experts forwarded a outline to control measure to counter pandemic influenza A/H1N1 on Wednesday, as the favorable season of winter for the flu is approaching.

The four-day long annual meeting of the health ministers of the region, and the 62nd Meeting of WHO Regional Committee for South- East Asia started in the Nepali capital Kathmandu on Sept. 7.

"A winter surge is a real possibility in the South-East Asia region. WHO is closely monitoring the virus for genetic mutation and drug resistance," said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia when speaking to journalists at the meeting on Wednesday.

"WHO continues to closely monitor the geographical spread of Pandemic A/H1N1, member states will need to continue updating their plans accordingly," he said, adding that it is important to allocate appropriate resources and maintain the overall pandemic preparedness.

The health ministers' meeting was focused on the importance of public health measures such as frequent hand-washing, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, and social distancing measures such as voluntary isolation for slowing down the surge, need to be emphasized to the public.

The meeting summarized that identifying sick students and keeping them at home is more beneficial than school closures, in general. However, it emphasized health systems and hospitals in member states need to remain prepared for a surge of severe cases requiring active case management with antiviral and other supportive measures.

"WHO is actively providing assistance for increasing vaccine production capacity in South-East Asia. The organization has transferred technology and development funds to three major vaccine manufacturers in the region, WHO regional office for public information and advocacy mentioned issuing press release on Wednesday.

According to the release, the manufacturers will have a collective capacity of about 220 million doses annually, with a surge capacity for another 200 million doses over one year. However, the regional office further said that the pandemic flu vaccine may not be available in time for the winter surge.

The meeting of health ministers is a forum to exchange national experiences on the social, political, and economic dimensions of health and highlight burning issues which will be followed by the WHO Regional Committee meeting, which is WHO's Governing Council at the regional level.

The 11 member countries of WHO's South-East Asia region are Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

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