Health ministers from around the world make H1N1 top priority

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 09 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5397
  1. Nayanah Siva
  1. 1London

    Health ministers from around the world agreed last week that H1N1 remains the top global health threat.

    Gillian Merron, UK Public Health Minister, said, “Diseases don’t respect borders so we need an international response to them. The global effort to tackle the [H1N1] pandemic has been impressive and would not have been possible without such cooperation.” She was speaking at the 10th ministerial meeting of the Global Health Security Initiative hosted by the Department of Health in London.

    The initiative was set up in 2001 as a response to the terrorist events of 11 September and the subsequent threats of anthrax letters. The main aims of the group are to protect health on a global scale and to enhance the ability to deal with international chemical, biological, and radionuclear threats to health. Several of the ongoing projects have been to look at strategies for national pandemic plans, emergency response procedures, and identifying national priorities and areas for action on health security

    Meeting last week delegates from the World Health Organization, the European Commission, USA, Mexico, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, and the UK discussed how the H1N1 pandemic had been dealt with so far and what lessons they had learnt for the future.

    Jose-Angel Cordova-Villalobos, from Mexico, stated that the initiative had allowed everyone to share their “experiences of swine flu,” and it showed that everyone coped well with the pandemic. Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, from France, said “we have tested our systems against a real risk.”

    However, Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Health for the European Commission, and Keiji Fukuda, Special Adviser on Public Influenza to the Director General at WHO, both noted that communication to the public about the pandemic could have been better, particularly in terms of the safety of the vaccine, and they urged governments to take note of this. “There is still confusion about the pandemic among the public”, said Dr Fukuda.

    When asked about how Mexico handled the pandemic, Mr Cordova-Villalobos stated that President Felipe Calderon was in the media at least three times a day at one point, which showed that when a government spoke openly to the public about the situation they responded positively. He also said that the country had been expecting the pandemic and had an emergency plan in place. The pandemic turned out not to be as bad as officials thought it would be and perhaps it was unnecessary to shut as many schools as they did, he added. All members agreed to contribute to WHO’s initiative to make a virtual stockpile of H1N1 vaccines for poorer countries. Each country has donated a percentage of vaccines they buy for their countries and these will be assigned by WHO to countries which need them.

    “Never before have we been in such a fortunate position to get vaccine out so quickly, tackling the virus at its peak. Our solidarity has also meant that crucial evidence and information could be shared between us,” said Ms Merron.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5397

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