Update on evaluation of the response to pandemic (H1N1) 2009

05 July 2010

A conference hosted by the Belgian EU Presidency in Brussels during 01-02 July 2010 discussed the lessons learned from the response to the pandemic (H1N1) 2009. In her speech today at the informal meeting of the EU Health Ministers, which discusses the conclusions of the conference, Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, addressed the same important topic and referred to the ongoing WHO/Europe evaluation of pandemic preparedness planning. An update of this evaluation is provided below.

WHO/Europe has completed visits to seven countries (Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland and Uzbekistan) and has interviewed stakeholder groups in each country in order to evaluate how pandemic preparedness aided the response to the pandemic (H1N1) 2009. This approach helps to identify common successes and challenges in the response to pandemic (H1N1) 2009 in a systematic way. Preliminary findings highlight some of the lessons learned:

  1. Countries’ pandemic plans are considered useful, enabling Member States to respond quickly. This is particularly the case when planning was a broad, participatory process involving different administrative levels and sectors of government, relevant agencies and professional groups. This creates technical capacity and forges channels of communication critical for coordinating the response.
  2. The WHO pandemic phases were used extensively for planning purposes, in combination with a severe scenario; this did not serve to guide the response well and both aspects need to be reviewed.
  3. It is critical to involve local institutions and first-line health care workers in the planning phase, as they can gauge capacities and the feasibility of response measures.
  4. Low pandemic vaccine coverage was explained by the relative mildness of the pandemic coupled with late delivery of vaccines, concerns about safety and lack of outreach to increase acceptance among health care workers and the public.

In October 2010, countries participating in the evaluation will convene at a workshop to discuss findings and future WHO activities and guidance. In addition, findings will be made available to the Review Committee of the International Health Regulations.