The Pandemic that Was

The world Health organization announced today that the (H1N1)2009 pandemic is over. “The H1N1 virus has largely run its course,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO. While the virus has not gone –nor will it go– away, it is expected to take of the behaviour of the seasonal strain. Also in this post pandemic phase localised outbreaks are expected to continue as they are currently in New Zealand and India. This means that, while the pandemic is over, continued vigilance is necessary.

In her opening statements at a telephone press conference, Dr. Chan said, “Pandemics are unpredictable and prone to deliver surprises. No two pandemics are ever alike […] This time around we have been aided by pure good luck.”

When asked about the perceived delay in downgrading the pandemic relative to many developed nations’ experience with the virus, Dr. Chan conceded that countries in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere were correct to scale back their response measures, but that “the World Health Organization has a duty to monitor the global situation,” including the tropics, and the southern hemisphere, “and that is precisely what we are doing […] Now, all in all[…] –and I’m talking about it at the global level– the world is transitioning out of the pandemic into the post-pandemic period.” A number of criteria were examined during the review process for downgrading the alert level. Among them were four key issues:

  • The frequency of out-of-season influenza outbreaks
  • The intensity of virus transmissions
  • H1N1’s ability to dominate and crowd other virus strains out of circulation
  • General levels of community-wide immunity

This morning’s resolution by the WHO’s emergency committee was unanimously agreed.

Dr. Chan described New Zealand and India as models of post-pandemic response for their level of continued surveillance of H1N1, H5N1, other flu-like illnesses and oseltamivir resistance.  She went on to say, “They maintain vigilance at a time when many countries, I’m afraid to say, have become quite complacent.”

We can always improve, and when the pandemic proved itself to be relatively moderate, Canada was as lucky as everyone else. But Dr. Chan had high praise the country’s health care system: “Canada is a very solid and robust country in terms of competence in public health, and I have full confidence in the national authorities in terms of their recommendations and guidance to their people.”

For the UN body itself, Dr. Chan said the two main things the WHO would work on to improve for the next public health emergency would be communication and plan flexibility and scalability. The Director-General was asked a number of times what activities she recommended for organizations and governments now that the bulk of the threat had passed. Each time her reply was to review their response, “so that they are better prepared next time.” World Health Organization

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