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Strengthening influenza surveillance in the Pacific

Strengthening influenza surveillance in the Pacific

Fiji, 29 September 2011 - A workshop aimed at reviewing and strengthening current influenza surveillance systems in the Pacific Island region is currently underway in Fiji.

Outbreaks of influenza can occur at any time of the year in Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs), with the continual movement of people in and out of the region. The disease can also spread easily between PICTs, as demonstrated during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.

“We try to make sure that all PICTs, including the most remote islands, can send samples for testing to laboratories for detection and identification of influenza viruses,” said Salanieta Elbourne, Laboratory Specialist at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

It is crucial for PICTs to be able to detect and confirm outbreaks of influenza quickly in order to respond effectively.

Fekitamoeloa Utoikamanu, Deputy Director-General of SPC, emphasised at the opening of the workshop that “Curtailing the spread of influenza is important because it not only affects the health of the population, it also impacts on the social, economic and financial aspects of a nation.”

The four-day workshop (26-29 September) is organised by SPC with funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to CDC Epidemiologist Margaret McCarron, who spoke at the workshop, “Influenza is a significant public health problem at the global level, but little is known about the burden of the disease in most countries, including in the PICTs.

“We encourage countries to routinely take samples from people thought to be infected and send them to reference laboratories for testing in order to know what type of influenza viruses are circulating in the region. This practice also helps contribute to influenza vaccine production,” said Ms Elbourne.

Seven PICTs (Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu) and a number of partner agencies are participating in this subregional workshop.

ENDS

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