WHO Member States had earlier agreed to shorten the Assembly from nine to five days in order to allow senior officials to return to their home countries to help oversee preparedness for a possible influenza pandemic.
In her remarks, the WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, referred to calls, made during a high level consultation on the new influenza A(H1N1) virus, to consider criteria other than geographical spread when evaluating the phases of influenza pandemic alert. As she stated, “The decision to declare an influenza pandemic is a responsibility that I take very, very seriously.” She further stated that her decision would consider the scientific information available, and would be supported by advice from the Emergency Committee, a body of international experts established in compliance with the International Health Regulations.
The Director-General outlined what might be seen, based on current knowledge, as the virus continues to spread over the coming weeks and months.
Dr Chan called for close monitoring of the virus as cases begin to appear in the Southern Hemisphere, where the new virus will have opportunities to mingle with other currently circulating influenza viruses as the winter seasonal influenza epidemics begin.
The Director-General noted that in cases where the H1N1 virus was widespread and circulating in the general community, countries must expect to see more cases of severe and fatal infections, even though a sudden and dramatic jump was not expected at present. She again reminded the international community of the particular vulnerability of populations in the developing world.
As she noted, detection of the virus and tracking of its spread require intensive laboratory testing, as the virus is not presently causing readily visible signals, such as large numbers of people needing medical care or entering hospitals. Laboratory testing, contact tracing, and investigation of cases are disruptive and resource intensive measures, raising questions about sustainability. Referring to a dilemma, she noted that such efforts have already yielded important clues at the scientific, clinical, and epidemiological levels, though much remains to be learned.
The Assembly passed 15 resolutions. Among them are:
Pandemic influenza preparedness: sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits:
A resolution requested the Director-General to take forward those parts of the pandemic preparedness framework on which agreement had been reached, and to facilitate a process to finalize the remaining elements, including Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA) and report to the Executive Board at its 126th session in January 2010.