The appointment is critical as the world is fast recognizing the risk of an imminent human influenza pandemic, and is taking steps to reduce the risk and to get prepared, the Secretary General's office said. To this end, the World Health Organization has sent all countries detailed guidance on actions they need to take. Implementing these actions requires coordination across U.N. agencies, countries, civil society, across sectors within countries and the private sector. Implementation also requires funding.
Nabarro, as senior U.N. system coordinator for avian and human influenza, will be responsible for ensuring an effective and coordinated contribution by the U.N. system to controlling the current epidemic of avian influenza that is particularly affecting countries in Asia. He will also ensure that the U.N. system supports effective local, national, regional and global preparations for a potential human influenza pandemic - so as to reduce the human toll, as well as the economic and social disruption, that this pandemic could cause.
A global influenza pandemic could come at any time and claim anywhere between 5 million and 150 million lives, depending on steps the world takes now to control the bird flu in Asia, the United Nations said.
Additionally, the bird flu virus is likely to mutate into a strain that can be passed person to person, Nabarro told reporters at a news conference yesterday at the United Nations.
Nabarro said he would head a new U.N. system-wide office in New York that would begin mobilizing governments, international agencies, health workers and the pharmaceutical industry.
"The WHO has been very clear about the imminent threat of a human influenza pandemic. The world is responding, and is moving quickly to get prepared. However, coordination of these efforts is critical to ensure all stakeholders are giving the best of what they have to offer, and that countries receive the support they urgently require," said Dr Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the WHO.
The U.S. Senate yesterday agreed to spend $4 billion on anti-viral drugs and increase global surveillance for the disease. However, the money, attached to an unrelated fiscal 2006 spending bill for the military, has not been embraced by the House of Representatives.
Earlier this month President George W. Bush, speaking at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, called for global resources and expertise to be pooled to fight bird flu. Nabarro, of the United Kingdom, has held several leadership positions in WHO, including on malaria, environmental health, food safety and most recently in crisis operations. His 30 years experience includes work in community-level and government health programs, particularly in Asia, in the administration of development assistance, as well as the management of scientific research, the building of development partnerships and engagement with non-governmental organizations.
Currently, the outbreaks of a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus in poultry and other birds in several Asian countries pose the greatest threat of sparking a human influenza pandemic. WHO warns that this animal virus (H5N1) could change into a form, which spreads easily from person to person. As people would have no natural immunity, a new influenza virus could cause widespread death, illness, social and economic disruption.
In recent weeks, several countries have joined forces to coordinate preparation. The United States announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza at the World Summit in New York. The initiative is moving forward with several countries, with a planning meeting on Oct. 7-8 in Washington. Canada is also hosting a ministerial meeting on Oct. 25 - 26, to discuss a range of policy issues to support the work of the partnership. On Nov. 7-8, the World Health Organization is hosting a meeting of all partners to coordinate the funding needed.
All of these efforts aim to ensure that countries are equipped with national influenza pandemic preparation plans, that efforts to stop the outbreaks of avian influenza are accelerated, and that health tools, such as a vaccine are available as quickly as possible, said the international health group.