The World Health Organization (WHO) is getting “very close” to announcing a pandemic as the new A/H1N1flu virus continues to spread around the world, a senior official said on Tuesday.
”We are getting really very close to knowing that we are in a pandemic situation, or I think, declaring that we are in a pandemic situation,” WHO Assistant Director-General Keiji Fukuda told a news briefing in Geneva.
He said signs of community-level transmission of the virus had actually appeared in Australia, where more than 1,000 human cases have been confirmed in the past few days.
By declaring a pandemic, the WHO needs to raise its pandemic alert level from the current phase 5 to phase 6. And that requires confirmed information that the virus is causing sustained and community-level infections in regions outside of North America, so far the only region with community-level outbreaks.
Fukuda reiterated that the move from phase 5 to phase 6 would base mainly on the geographic spread of the disease, instead of its severity.
Moving to phase 6 “does not mean that the severity of the situation has increased or that people are getting seriously sick at higher numbers or higher rates than they are right now,” he said, adding that it is important for countries and the public to avoid panic.
According to the WHO official, the looming pandemic should be of “moderate level” in terms of severity and countries should understand it rightly.
”One of the things we are really focusing on right now is to help countries, institutions and the media really understand what are pandemics,” Fukuda said.
The WHO is trying to provide countries and the public with as much as information as possible in order to “reduce the chances of any adverse effects” once a pandemic is declared, he said. It is not simply “getting up in front of press cameras or making an announcement, it’s really a way to prepare the world to deal with the situation,” he added.