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Global aid agencies boost support to poorer nations to fight flu threat

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b1856 (Published 06 May 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1856
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

    International agencies, spearheaded by the World Health Organization, are scaling up their support to low and middle income nations, including Mexico, to help them respond to the possible threat of an A/H1N1 flu pandemic.

    All the poorest countries “with the greatest needs,” are being targeted, said Mike Ryan, WHO’s director for global alert and response. He said that the agency has begun to dispatch 2.4 million doses of antiviral drugs to 72 countries, including Mexico, from stocks donated by the drug company Roche in 2005 and 2006.

    He said the most vulnerable people will be given courses of the treatment as part of the agency’s rapid containment strategy and that WHO plans to supplement its regional stockpiles as a contingency measure.

    Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general, is in contact with manufacturers and major donors and international financial institutions to ensure that enough funds are earmarked to help poor nations buy antiviral drugs, diagnostic equipment, and other supplies and that adequate supplies are available.

    Dr Ryan said that a pandemic is imminent. Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s assistant director general for health security, told reporters that the situation remained “pretty fluid” and emphasised that the situation was still changing. WHO is urging countries not to drop their guard.

    The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said on Monday: “We should avoid a false sense of security . . . In the face of uncertainty we must be vigilant.”

    Meanwhile the World Bank has decided to help Mexico fight the spread of the virus with $205m (£135m; €155) in rapidly disbursed funds. Its president, Robert Zoellick, said, “Our first, second, and third focus is on people’s health and lives.”

    World Bank officials said that $25.6m had already been redirected from an ongoing health project in Mexico to allow the country to buy drugs immediately and to boost its flu testing capacity.

    The same sources said that the bank is also reviewing its country lending portfolios to see whether it can redirect funds from ongoing bank projects to boost pandemic flu preparedness in other countries. In addition, it is investigating the possibility of increasing its $500m global avian flu facility, set up in 2006 to help poorer nations contain the spread of H5N1 flu.

    The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that more than 130 of its national societies have started responding or are preparing to respond to the threat of a pandemic. Measures include stepping up national awareness campaigns and surveillance of cases, federation officials said.

    It said it is supporting the Mexican Red Cross in its campaign, which includes delivering and distributing 20 000 personal protection kits for healthcare professionals and 4000 kits for ambulance staff.

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1856

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