WHO simplifies pandemic alert system after criticism

June 10, 2013

The World Health Organization on Monday published a new plan on how to alert the world to possible flu pandemics, following harsh criticism of its handling of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.

The UN's health agency said it had simplified its alert system and redefined what constitutes a pandemic to put more emphasis on the risk it posed instead of just focusing on its spread.

"The key point of the new guidance reflecting the lessons learnt (was to make it) very much risk-based," WHO expert David Harper told reporters in Geneva Monday.

The changes came after the agency faced a barrage of criticism for how it handled the first of the 21st century.

The WHO announced H1N1 swine flu had reached pandemic proportions on June 11, 2009, first sparking panic-buying of vaccines and then anger when it turned out the virus was not nearly as dangerous as first thought.

Swine flu killed more than 18,449 people and affected some 214 countries and territories, but the world had been bracing for far worse, and governments stuck with millions of unused were especially upset.

In March 2011, a WHO evaluation committee called on the organisation to simplify its description of a pandemic to make it more precise and consistent and to assess the risks and severity of a pandemic.

It also called for the agency to improve both routine and to the public.

In the previous system, a pandemic was declared when a virus caused community level outbreaks in at least two different WHO-defined regions, and in at least two countries in one WHO region.

The definition of a pandemic has now been simplified to a "period of global spread of caused by a new subtype," WHO said.

The new system had been simplified and used four phases—interpandemic, alert, pandemic and transition—instead of the previous seven to describe the spread of a new subtype, taking account of the diseases it causes around the world, WHO said.

According to the new rules, for instance, WHO currently considers the world is at the "alert" level when it comes to both the H5N1 and H7N1 bird flus, compared to level three in the old system, Harper said.

If there is concern that a new pandemic has broken out, the WHO secretariat will urgently convene a group of experts to counsel the head of the organisation, who will in turn decide whether to put the world on the pandemic phase.

The new system also aims to encourage countries to develop their own risk assessments and plans to address a potential pandemic, including closing schools and sports stadiums, Harper said.

Explore further: Swine flu pandemic of 2009 more deadly for younger adults, study finds

Related Stories

Swine flu pandemic of 2009 more deadly for younger adults, study finds

May 22, 2013
As the world prepares for what may be the next pandemic strain of influenza virus, in the H7N9 bird flu, a new UC Irvine study reveals that the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic was deadliest for people under the age of 65, while ...

Swine flu kills one in Western Sahara

February 11, 2013
A fisherman has died of swine flu in the Western Sahara region, where 11 others have been tested H1N1 positive, the Moroccan health ministry said on Sunday.

H7N9 bird flu cases set to climb, but no pandemic: WHO

April 3, 2013
The number of cases of H7N9 bird flu in China looks set to climb as experts identify previously unexplained infections, but a lack of human-to-human transmission means a pandemic is not on the cards, the World Health Organisation ...

Swine flu kills three in Central Europe

January 24, 2013
Three people have died in Romania and Macedonia after being infected with the H1N1 influenza strain known as swine flu, the two countries' health ministries said Thursday.

Recommended for you

Students more likely to eat school breakfast when given extra time, new study finds

August 18, 2018
Primary school students are more likely to eat a nutritional breakfast when given 10 extra minutes to do so, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern University.

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Eating breakfast burns more carbs during exercise and accelerates metabolism for next meal

August 15, 2018
Eating breakfast before exercise may "prime" the body to burn carbohydrates during exercise and more rapidly digest food after working out, University of Bath researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.