UN System Perspective on Pandemic Preparedness

Singapore, 14 August 2006
  • Speech by David Nabarro, Senior UN System Influenza Coordinator
Summary of the Video message titled "UN system Perspective on Pandemic Preparedness" by David Nabarro, Senior UN System Influenza Coordinator, at APEC Pandemic Response Exercise Lessons Learnt on 14-15 August 2006 at Singapore.
At the beginning Dr David Nabarro spoke about the current resurgence of H5N1 outbreaks among bird populations in Asia, and the continuing incidence of sporadic human cases. He emphasized that there is always the potential for this virus, or another influenza virus, to mutate resulting in sustained human to human transmission, and that could well be associated with an influenza pandemic. For this cause, we must get prepared now as the pandemic could occur at any time.
He then reflected on the objectives of the APEC workshop, and on the particular subject of the session "APEC's relationship to other organizations". Pandemic preparedness is a priority for the UN system. Within the system we have the World Health Organization which is the lead body for human health aspects of pandemic influenza. It is the WHO which will decide whether the international pandemic alert level, currently 3, needs to be changed. There are also FAO, the lead technical body for animal health, and the UN Children's Fund, the UN Development Programme, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Tourism Organization, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, the World Food Programme and other bodies in the UN system, all of whom have an interest in pandemic issues. The way we work together is described in the UN consolidated action plan on the website www.influenza.undg.org.
He then described the way in which the UN - as a major international organization with thousands of employees is preparing itself for work under pandemic conditions. There are three parts to its approach ? make sure that staff are safe and secure, so that they can work effectively; make sure that there is continuity of essential operations, and make sure that there is sufficient flexibility in our programmes to take on new tasks that may become necessary in pandemic conditions.
He refereed to the pandemic preparedness plans being developed by Governments, and described how the majority of them concentrate on public health issues (which are an important core of preparedness planning). He then stressed the need to pay attention to the non-medical aspects of pandemic response - such as continuity of governance, economic systems, the judiciary, humanitarian responses. He stressed the need to test plans through simulations, engage of all levels of government (local authorities as well as regional and central government) and to involve of civil society, private sector and the media. He stressed the importance of countries working together, especially when they are neighbours, so that cross border issues are properly addressed (and expressed a view that the APEC approach is an excellent example).
He mentioned that communication systems need to be agreed in advance so that key messages can be disseminated to the general public in an authoritative, clear and unambiguous manner through TV, radio and posters ("fly-posting"). He also quoted that UN is setting up accessible internet information portals - an example of which is the World Tourism Organization?s portal for companies working in the travel and tourism sector.
In summary, he reiterated the importance of advance planning, of establishing who is responsible for what, and chasing up to make sure that preparation actually takes place (and testing it through exercises) as this is the only way through which we can be sure of mitigating the suffering and impairment of livelihoods that will result from a pandemic.