Pandemic influenza

An influenza pandemic is a global epidemic caused by a new influenza virus to which there is little or no pre-existing immunity in the human population. Influenza pandemics are impossible to predict; and they may be mild, or cause severe disease or death. Severe disease may occur in certain risk groups, which may correspond to those at risk of severe disease due to seasonal influenza. However, healthy persons are also likely to experience more serious disease than that caused by seasonal influenza.

The most recent pandemic occurred in 2009 and was caused by an influenza A (H1N1) virus. It is estimated to have caused between 100 000 and 400 000 deaths globally in the first year alone.

Preparedness and response

Influenza pandemics, whether mild, moderate or severe, affect a large proportion of the population, which puts significant strains on health and other essential services and may result in significant economic losses. As an influenza pandemic may last months or even years, this requires a sustained response in the health sector but also in other sectors providing essential services, such as energy and food production. For this reason, countries develop multi-sectoral preparedness plans describing their strategies and operational plans for responding to a pandemic.

What WHO/Europe is doing to help countries prepare for the next pandemic

WHO/Europe assists Member States in revising their pandemic plans based on lessons learnt following the 2009 pandemic, it organizes meetings for the exchange of best practice in pandemic planning, develops guidance and provides support in outbreaks.

In 2014, WHO/EURO began implementing the PIP Framework. This global initiative, involving Member States, industry, other stakeholders and WHO between seeks:

  • to improve the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential; and 
  • to achieve more equitable access for Member States in need of pandemic vaccines and medicines used in a pandemic.

Through annual Partnership Contributions, the PIP Framework enables WHO/Europe to enhance its work to strengthen laboratory and surveillance capacities in 6 PIP-eligible countries: Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.