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Latin American Countries Plan for Flu Pandemic

Washington, DC, February 25, 2005 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is working with its member countries to develop national influenza pandemic preparedness plans, to help them cope should a new and virulent strain of influenza cause a global epidemic.

“A number of countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, have been developing preparedness plans for some time,’ says Otavio Oliva, PAHO regional advisor on viral diseases. “Others are just beginning the process. But there are many things that still need to be done on all sides.’

PAHO is providing technical cooperation to help the countries move forward in these efforts. The work is based on a set of guidelines developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1999. WHO is currently updating those guidelines and planning to produce a “model national plan’ for pandemic preparedness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are supporting these efforts.

The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan, which follows the WHO guidelines, “provides a good example of a fully developed plan,’ says Oliva. “Even the best plan cannot prevent cases once the pandemic is under way, but it can help minimize the impact.’

PAHO and the CDC will hold a workshop in May in Atlanta for countries of the Andean region and Central America. It will provide training in epidemiology and surveillance of influenza and other respiratory viruses and provide an opportunity for the countries to discuss and compare their progress on developing pandemic preparedness plans.

A similar workshop was held in Rio de Janeiro in April 2004 on surveillance of and response to epidemic-prone respiratory viral diseases. The workshop focused on severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and avian flu as examples.

PAHO´s pandemic preparedness efforts focus on strengthening countries´ capacities in the following key areas:

  • Epidemiological surveillance of influenza.
  • Supply and distribution of vaccines and antiviral drugs.
  • Health services preparedness.
  • Hospital capacity and response.
  • Risk communication.

The Canadian national pandemic plan notes that “the most effective public health intervention to mitigate the impact of a pandemic is through immunization with an effective vaccine against the novel virus, and, to a lesser extent, through the use of antiviral drugs.’

PAHO has been providing technical cooperation on an ongoing basis to its member countries in the areas of influenza surveillance and laboratory and diagnostic capacity, and has been promoting the use of an annual influenza vaccine in the region. Pandemic preparedness planning has become a priority in this work in recent years.

Flu pandemics tend to occur every 10 to 50 years. The last was in 1968-69. Global public health experts are warning that the avian influenza epidemic in Asia has put the world at greater risk of a new pandemic than at any other time in recent decades.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world´s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve health and quality of life. PAHO serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.

PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.

For more information please contact , PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3122.