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Boosting pandemic influenza preparedness in South-East Asia in the face of COVID-19

1 October 2021 | Departmental news

Since 2014, several Member States in WHO’s South-East Asia Region (SEAR) have been supported by the PIP Framework Partnership Contribution (PC) to build their capacities in pandemic influenza preparedness, to great effect. Every year, more and more SEAR countries are sharing influenza data and viruses through the global networks and platforms such as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), FluNet and FluID. Many countries have calculated and published national  burden of disease estimates. Many have also updated their influenza pandemic preparedness plans and developed roadmaps to enable the timely approval of pandemic influenza products.

Over the past year, progress in implementing PIP PC activities was severely hindered by surges in COVID-19 cases across the region. Even so, countries have continued to make gains in pandemic preparedness, adopting an integrated approach to conduct PIP PC activities while simultaneously responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Successes over the past year include integrating COVID-19 and influenza surveillance and building laboratory capacities in diagnosis and genetic sequencing for both COVID-19 and influenza. Other achievements in 2021 include training of multi-disciplinary rapid response teams, testing pandemic plans through table-top exercises, and evaluating pandemic responses in practice.

Across the region, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a major challenge to implementing PIP PC activities. To help countries plan for the year ahead, WHO hosted a meeting in August 2021 where participants discussed ongoing obstacles and opportunities to pandemic influenza preparedness, shared their practical experience and expertise and developed risk-mitigation plans and strategies to secure core capacity building even in the face of COVID-19.  Importantly, these plans dovetail with other global and regional preparedness frameworks, including the Asia Pacific strategy for emerging diseases and public health emergencies (APSED III), the Global Influenza Strategy (2019–2030), and the Delhi declaration on emergency preparedness in the South-East Asia Region.