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GENEVA -- The United Nations Secretary General has appointed Dr. David Nabarro, one of the most senior public health experts at the World Health Organization (WHO), to lead coordination of the UN response to avian influenza and a possible human influenza pandemic.
The appointment is critical as the world is fast recognizing the risk of an imminent human influenza pandemic, and is taking steps to reduce the risk and to get prepared. To this end, the World Health Organization has sent all countries detailed guidance on actions they need to take. Implementing these actions requires coordination across UN agencies, countries, civil society, across sectors within countries and the private sector. Implementation also requires funding.
As senior UN system coordinator for avian and human influenza, Nabarro will be responsible for ensuring an effective and coordinated contribution by the UN system to controlling the current epidemic of avian influenza that is particularly affecting countries in Asia. He will also ensure that the UN system supports effective local, national, regional and global preparations for a potential human influenza pandemic -- so as to reduce the human toll, as well as the economic and social disruption, that this pandemic could cause.
"The WHO has been very clear about the imminent threat of a human influenza pandemic. The world is responding, and is moving quickly to get prepared. However, coordination of these efforts is critical to ensure all stakeholders are giving the best of what they have to offer, and that countries receive the support they urgently require," said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the WHO. Nabarro, of the United Kingdom, has held several leadership positions in WHO, including on malaria, environmental health, food safety and most recently in crisis operations. His 30 years experience includes work in community-level and government health programs, particularly in Asia, in the administration of development assistance, as well as the management of scientific research, the building of development partnerships and engagement with non-governmental organizations.
Currently, the outbreaks of a highly-pathogenic avian influenza virus in poultry and other birds in several Asian countries pose the greatest threat of sparking a human influenza pandemic. WHO warns that this animal virus (H5N1) could change into a form which spreads easily from person to person. As people would have no natural immunity, a new influenza virus could cause widespread death, illness, social and economic disruption.
In recent weeks, several countries have joined forces to coordinate preparation. The United States announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza at the World Summit in New York. The initiative is moving forward with several countries, with a planning meeting Oct. 7-8, 2005 in Washington. Canada is also hosting a ministerial meeting Oct. 25-26, 2005 to discuss a range of policy issues to support the work of the partnership. On Nov. 7-8, 2005 the World Health Organization is hosting a meeting of all partners to coordinate the funding needed.
All of these efforts aim to ensure countries are equipped with national influenza pandemic preparation plans, that efforts to stop the outbreaks of avian influenza are accelerated, and that health tools, such as a vaccine are available as quickly as possible.