REGIONAL health ministers meeting in Singapore have called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to review its pandemic alert levels, so as to take into consideration the severity and speed at which a virus spreads in future outbreaks.
Speaking at the conclusion of the two-day Asean Health Ministers Meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore’s Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who currently chairs the biennial meeting, said the Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak was one of the main topics discussed.
This is the second such call to WHO by Mr Khaw in just over a year.
WHO’s pandemic alert system has been under scrutiny over the past two years, with health experts saying it should focus on the severity of outbreaks rather than factors such as the geographical spread of the disease.
The concern of individual countries is that if WHO looks mostly at geography when deciding on pandemic levels, it risks labelling an outbreak a pandemic when in reality, the threat level is not that high.
By following these guidelines, public health authorities say WHO has exaggerated the risks and created unnecessary alarm.
Earlier this year, WHO announced that it would conduct an internal review of its system. A group of independent experts will also review how the H1N1 pandemic was handled. It is scheduled to present its findings at a conference in May next year.
Regional officials meeting at yesterday’s conference here noted that the outbreak has entered the post-pandemic phase, and all 10 Asean nations have stepped down or are in the process of stepping down their alert status.
Ministers meeting yesterday also proposed an Asean Dengue Day to raise awareness of the disease in the region.