Workshop on detection of and response to novel influenza viruses to support early warning alert and response network (EWARN) in northern Syria

7–8 July 2018, Gaziantep, Turkey

Influenza viruses represent one of the greatest threats to global public health and security. Early detection and investigation of possible novel virus infections in humans are critical, as any novel infection may signal the next pandemic. Even when routine surveillance in a country may be limited, it is important to maintain the ability to identify early events, such as a cluster of infections that need prompt investigation, appropriate infection control and rapid laboratory diagnostics.

WHO/Europe, the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean and the WHO Country Office in Turkey are conducting a 1.5-day workshop in Gaziantep, Turkey, for 45 public health responders from Northern Syria. In the absence of routine surveillance during the ongoing conflict, public health and medical personnel are focusing on early warning and response efforts.

The workshop targets field-level officers and health facility staff from Syria, many of whom are responsible for surveillance of and response to influenza and other respiratory illnesses. It focuses on the human health aspect of an event. The training will precede a workshop on poliomyelitis eradication and outbreak response.

At the end of the workshop, participants will be able to:

  • describe the current global influenza threats and the importance of novel influenza virus detection;
  • explain the role of sentinel versus event-based surveillance in detecting novel influenza virus infections;
  • explain the steps to take in rapid response to a cluster of infections in humans (or bird die-offs), and know how to elevate through appropriate channels;
  • routinely review and share surveillance data to describe baseline characteristics and identify changes in patterns (timing, risk groups, severity, etc.);
  • explain the importance of maintaining influenza laboratory diagnostics, and what specimens to prioritize;
  • provide training to health facility staff on infection, prevention and control;
  • educate clinicians on the importance of empiric use of antivirals for prompt treatment of severe illness or high-risk people with suspect influenza;
  • provide guidance on communicating information to the public during an emergency; and
  • discuss pandemic preparedness broadly, including use of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions.