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WHO Urges Improved Ability To Combat New Diseases

World Health Organization Western Pacific Region

WHO urges countries to speed up their ability to fight new diseases

Fifty-ninth session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific 22-26 September, 2008, Manila, Philippines

Manila 25 September 2008—The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to accelerate implementation of the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases to achieve the basic capacities required to deal with new infections.

While some countries have started strengthening their ability to respond to disease, others need to work harder to achieve the strategy's core capacity development goal by 2010, the world health body said. The strategy provides a framework for the early detection and rapid response to emerging and re-emerging diseases.

"Without fundamental systems and capacity in place, countries will not be able to detect, report and respond promptly to any disease outbreak with the potential of international spread," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director, in his address to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

After SARS was contained in 2003, avian influenza A(H5N1) emerged a few months later, indicating that other emerging diseases are yet to come, Dr Omi said. The Western Pacific Region also needs to deal with serious public health threats arising from other epidemic-prone diseases, such as cholera, dengue fever, and foot and mouth disease.

The risk of a human influenza pandemic continues to persist, with H5N1 well-entrenched in poultry. More than 380 human cases of H5N1 with a high case fatality rate have been reported in 15 countries. "We need to maintain constant vigilance for avian influenza," said Dr Omi. "We need to continue to prepare for a worst-case scenario, a pandemic influenza."

WHO Member States, in collaboration with WHO and partner organizations, continue to test and validate their pandemic preparedness plans. Rapid containment exercises have been conducted in several countries, including the Lao People's Democratic Republic and the Philippines, to examine country-level operational capacity.

The Regional Committee, the governing body of WHO in the Western Pacific, is meeting in Manila from 22 to 26 September to review WHO's work in the Region and to formulate plans of action to address health challenges

ENDS

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