Posted on January 15, 2010 by Patients and Patents
The World Health Organization has struck back at criticism about the agency’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic, saying claims that the outbreak was a false alarm are scientifically wrong and irresponsible.
“The world is going through a real pandemic. The description of it as a fake is both wrong and irresponsible,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, special adviser to the WHO director-general on pandemic influenza.
Fukuda also said dismissing the pandemic as a dud is “somewhat disrespectful” to the people who died or were severely sickened by the virus, as well as to those who have worked long hours on pandemic responses around the world. Those responses, he said, are the most concerted in the history of influenza and have averted infections and deaths.
“We don’t know how much these efforts have helped to mitigate the overall effect of the pandemic, but we firmly believe that these efforts should not be discounted.”
Definition of a pandemic
According to the World Health Organization, a pandemic can start when three conditions have been met:
- emergence of a disease new to a population;
- agents infect humans, causing serious illness; and
- agents spread easily and sustainably among humans.
A disease or condition is not a pandemic merely because it is widespread or kills many people; it must also be infectious.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Public health, World Health Organization | Tagged: H1N1, Public health, Swine flu, World Health Organization | Leave a Comment »
Posted on November 17, 2009 by Patients and Patents
Nearly 12 million Africans deemed at highest risk from yellow fever will be vaccinated next week against the virus, which can cause explosive epidemics in cities.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent yellow fever, which is hard to diagnose in early stages and for which there is no specific treatment, according to the United Nations agency. Yellow fever infects 206,000 people a year and kills an estimated 30,000, mainly in tropical parts of Africa and the Americas where it has never been wiped out.
In contrast, a survey of Canadians shows that despite efforts to make vaccines available, nearly half won’t bother to get the H1N1 shot. Similar results are reported from surveys in the U.S.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Public health | Tagged: access to medicines, H1N1, Public health, Swine flu, vaccine | Leave a Comment »
Posted on November 5, 2009 by Patients and Patents
Federal authorities are warning Canadians not to buy unauthorized products from the Internet or other sources that claim to fight the H1N1 virus. The Competition Bureau and Health Canada issued a statement Wednesday saying that only three products are authorized for use against the virus: the vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline called Arepanrix, which is available at flu clinics and doctors’ offices, and the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza.
“Taking unapproved or counterfeit drugs could pose serious risks to health,” the advisory says. “These products may contain ingredients not listed on the label or dangerous additives, and could cause serious side effects.”
The warning says vaccines should only come from a qualified health care provider, and antivirals should only be purchased with a prescription from a health care practitioner who has examined the patient.
The advisory says there are legitimate Canadian Internet pharmacies, but consumers need to be aware of the risks associated with buying drugs online.
Health Canada says it will monitor the Internet and take action against websites selling unauthorized products for the treatment or prevention of the H1N1 flu virus, or any other health condition.
200,000 doses of the unadjuvanted H1N1 vaccine called Panvax have also been imported from Australia for use in pregnant women.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Counterfeit drugs, North America, Public health | Tagged: Canada, counterfeit medicines, H1N1, internet pharmacies, Swine flu, vaccine | Leave a Comment »
Posted on September 18, 2009 by Patients and Patents
The United States joins Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and Britain in efforts to make the H1N1 vaccine available to less-developed countries. The White House announced yesterday that they are prepared to make 10 percent of America’s H1N1 vaccine supply available to other countries through the World Health Organization.
The recent news that a single dose of H1N1 vaccine can protect adults against the virus has sparked conversations between the WHO and developed countries about sharing their vaccine stockpiles with developing countries.
The White House said it would make the vaccine available to the WHO on a rolling basis as vaccine supplies become available, to assist countries that might not have direct access to the vaccine. The vaccine is expected to be available in the coming weeks, earlier than originally anticipated.
Millions of people around the world have been infected with the H1N1 vaccine, thousands have died and the virus continues to spread across international borders.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Public health, World Health Organization | Tagged: access to medicines, H1N1, Swine flu, World Health Organization | Leave a Comment »
Posted on August 25, 2009 by Patients and Patents
In contrast to the H1N1 treatment protocols established by many developed nations, the World Health Organization recently announced that healthy patients who get H1N1 swine flu without suffering complications do not need to be treated with antivirals like Tamiflu. Antiviral treatments are strongly recommended for pregnant women, patients with underlying medical conditions and children under 5, since they are at increased risk of more severe illness.
The concern with the WHO recommendation, as reported by Reuters, is that judging who will need antivirals is not easy for doctors since the risk of developing severe illness from the new flu strain is not restricted to people who have chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or asthma. Despite the WHO’s conclusion that underlying medical conditions do not predict a severe infection, the fact that 6 out of 10 patients suffering serious bouts of swine flu do have previous conditions chimes with other medical research.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Public health, World Health Organization | Tagged: H1N1, Swine flu, World Health Organization | 1 Comment »
Posted on August 6, 2009 by Patients and Patents
The World Health Organization recently stated that the first vaccines to combat H1N1 swine flu should be approved and ready for use in some countries from September, according to a recent article by Reuters.
Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research, also said vaccine production yields were improving, following a disappointing start that triggered some worries about supplies.
“I don’t want to say too early that the question has been resolved but it really seems that we have found a way to go round this problem,” Kieny told reporters. “We are on track in development.”
First results from clinical trials are expected early next month and these tests will show whether one or two doses are needed to provide immunity — another big swing factor in determining how many people can be vaccinated.
Once initial clinical trial results are in, regulators will be able to approve the vaccines from next month and the first countries are expected to start mass vaccination programmes, Kieny added.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Public health, World Health Organization | Tagged: H1N1, Swine flu, vaccine, World Health Organization | Leave a Comment »
Posted on June 11, 2009 by Patients and Patents
The BBC reports that UN health officials are expected to declare the first global flu pandemic in 40 years, after holding emergency talks on the swine flu crisis.
- WHO poised to declare first flu pandemic in 40 years
- Flu experts expected to recommend move to phase 6
- Expected to urge finishing seasonal flu vaccine production
- Spread of virus in Australia triggering declaration
The last global flu pandemic came in 1968 over the Hong Kong flu. That pandemic killed about one million people. A disease is classed as a pandemic when transmission between humans becomes widespread in at least two regions of the world.
The latest virus emerged in Mexico in April and since then thousands of cases have been confirmed throughout North and South America.
The H1N1 strain has spread to 74 countries but the WHO has so far resisted labelling the outbreak a full-blown pandemic.
WHO chief Margaret Chan talked to officials from eight countries with large flu outbreaks on Wednesday in an attempt to confirm the spread of the disease.
The WHO’s move follows Australia’s confirmation of more than 1,200 cases – a four-fold increase in a week.
Although most sufferers experience normal flu symptoms and make a full recovery, the WHO has confirmed 141 deaths from 27,737 cases.
The BBC’s health correspondent, Jane Dreaper, says classifying the virus as a pandemic does not mean that the virus has suddenly become more deadly.
But it does send a clear signal to health officials and businesses to continue planning for the possibility of large numbers of people catching the virus, she says.
Filed under: Public health | Tagged: H1N1, Public health, Swine flu | Leave a Comment »
Posted on June 2, 2009 by Michael McDonough
Global H1N1 fears are subsiding, but as a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out this may be premature. The article illustrates how the number of countries with confirmed H1N1 cases has risen from four on April 27th to 48 as of Wednesday, with the number of individual cases increasing from 73 to 13,398. However, the central question remains whether or not the virus will make a resurgence in the coming fall flu season, and if it does how virulent will it be. As you can see from the chart below, the 1918 flu pandemic struck in 3 separate phases, with the most severe occurring in the fall of that year. Similar to now, in 1918 after the initial outbreak, the world experienced a spring and summer with relatively low fatalities, despite rising infection rates. Nevertheless, by the fall of 1918 this trough culminated with a significant surge in fatality rates, leading to an estimated 500mn deaths. The 1918 scenario is by no means guaranteed to reoccur; nevertheless, it is certainly a reason to remain vigilant.
A time series of deaths per 1,000 during the 1918 flu pandemic
Interesting to point out is that according to the article 64% of the current H1N1 cases have occurred in the 5-24 age bracket, with only 1% of cases occurring in people older than 65. This distribution could theoretically be due to existing immunities within that age bracket from exposure to past H1N1 outbreaks. This pattern again parallels the 1918 pandemic.
Not all is fire and brimstone. Flu-detection and prevention technology has improved exponentially from 1918. An article by the NY Times, points out pharmaceutical companies have begun preliminary work on an H1N1 vaccine. The new vaccine could be ready as early as October, after clinical trials this summer. Nevertheless, given the parallels between now and the 1918 flu pandemic, it is important the public does not become over-complacent. It is good advice to remain aware of your environment and report any potential infections to the proper authorities for treatment and tracking purposes.
Filed under: Commentary on news & events, Public health | Tagged: H1N1, Public health, Swine flu | 2 Comments »
Posted on May 20, 2009 by Patients and Patents
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with over 30 vaccine manufacturers from developing and developed countries at WHO headquarters yesterday. Industry representatives affirmed their wish to cooperate in making supplies of any eventual vaccine for Influenza A(H1N1) available to developing countries, and said they stood ready to produce the vaccine when requested.
At a press conference later in the day, Dr Chan said, “We have a very serious commitment from companies in the North and in the South to work with WHO.” She said the Secretary-General’s ability to mobilize resources “is extremely vital when the world is under threat of an imminent pandemic.”
Together with the UN and other members of the global community, Dr. Chan stated that the WHO would work to find innovative funding mechanisms to ensure that developing countries were not denied access to vaccines because of lack of means. Both the Director-General and Secretary-General expressed their appreciation of the efforts of the manufacturers, with support from governments, to further increase their production capacity.
While the development and production of a vaccine for Influenza A(H1N1) is certainly essential, there has been some debate recently regarding whether production efforts should be diverted to provide for a potential swine flu pandemic or remain focused on creating vaccines for traditional seasonal viruses. This is of particular concern in areas of Latin America and Africa which are approaching their main flu seasons.
Filed under: Public health, World Health Organization | Tagged: drug development, H1N1, Innovation, vaccine, World Health Organization | 1 Comment »
Posted on May 19, 2009 by Patients and Patents
Live Twitter updates from the 62nd World Health Assembly: www.twitter.com/patientspatents
The 62nd World Health Assembly opened yesterday (May 18, 2009) and much of the administrative details (election of the President, chairmans of the committees, adoption of the agenda, etc.). Dr. Margaret Chan also addressed the Assembly.
The WHA was significantly shortened due to the H1N1 outbreak. As a result, several important issues (including counterfeit medicines) were dropped from the agenda. Some of the items of note scheduled to be discussed today are:
- Item 12.4 Primary health care, including health strengthening
- Item 12.5 Commission on the Social Determinants of health
- Item 12.6 Monitoring of the achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals
- Item 12.8 Public health, innovation and intellectual property: global strategy and plan of action (to be continued and completed on Wednesday)
The updated programme of meetings is available on the UN site. Not surprisingly, the schedule has already been pushed back by H1N1 discussions so item 12.8 will likely be discussed very late this evening if at all today.
Filed under: Public health, World Health Organization | Tagged: H1N1, World Health Assembly, World Health Organization | Leave a Comment »