Friday, January 12, 2007

“Complacency is our biggest enemy” - new head of WHO

Helen Branswell from the Canadian Press says the new head of the World Health organization that took office on Thursday, warns that complacency endangers efforts to prepare for the avian flu.

Dr. Margaret Chan, 59, holds Chinese and Canadian citizenship and received her medical degree from the University of Western Ontario. She was nominated by China for the WHO’s top job. Before taking up the director general position, she served as head of the WHO’s pandemic preparations.

In response to the threat that the H5N1 virus may trigger flu pandemic, she says “...we need to have a balanced view. One should not take the alarmist approach and on the other hand, complacency is our biggest enemy.”

Branswell notes that the sense of a pandemic alert has somewhat subsided in many quarters, because of the decrease in human infections during the past few months. Chan however, says this should be kept in perspective. Chan further reminds us that South Korea and Vietnam are still fighting outbreaks of the virus in poultry. Even though Vietnam had gone more than a year without an outbreak, they suddenly saw the virus flare up again in poultry late last year.

And just before Christmas, three people in Egypt died after contracting the virus. Branswell reports WHO statistics, which points out that 261 people, have been affected since 2003 and 157 of them have died.

During a telephone news conference in Geneva, Chan is reported to say, “We learned from past experience it goes into cycles. There would be periods of high H5N1or low activity". As we are moving into the peak season of influenza again, she advises health authorities to be vigilant.

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