UN, WHO heads meet 30 vaccine manufacturers

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with over 30 vaccine manufacturers from developing and developed countries at WHO headquarters today.

Both the Director-General and the Secretary-General stressed the importance of assuring that any eventual vaccine for Influenza A(H1N1) was made available in a spirit of equity and fairness, and invited the manufacturers to continue to work with them to develop a strategy for this. Industry representatives affirmed their wish to cooperate in making supplies available to developing countries, and said they stood ready to produce the vaccine when requested. At a press conference later in the day, Dr Chan said, "We have a very serious commitment from companies in the North and in the South to work with WHO." She said the Secretary-General's ability to mobilize resources "is extremely vital when the world is under threat of an imminent pandemic." Together with the UN and other members of the global community, WHO would work to find innovative funding mechanisms to ensure that developing countries were not denied access to vaccines because of lack of means.

Both the Director-General and Secretary-General expressed their appreciation of the efforts of the manufacturers, with support from governments, to further increase their production capacity.

Although WHO was not a funding agency, Dr Chan said she took it as part of her job to advocate for the poor. "In the name of solidarity, I have reached out to drug and vaccine manufacturers," she said. "We will look at different mechanisms to make sure poor communities and countries are not left out."

She said she had spoken with UNITAID, GAVI the World Bank and foundations to continue work on funding. The Director-General said she would meet with vaccine manufacturers individually to work out strategies to ensure pandemic vaccine availability.

In response to a question on pandemic alert phase change, Dr Chan explained that the definition of WHO's influenza preparedness phases was developed against the backdrop of H5N1 avian flu. Influenza A(H1N1) has a very different clinical picture, which is so far mostly mild and self-limiting, unlike H5N1, which had a 50% to 60% mortality rate. She said that at the on-going World Health Assembly, Member States had asked that WHO reflect criteria other than geographical spread before moving to Phase 6. The pandemic alert level is currently at Phase 5.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also visited the JW Lee Centre for Strategic Health Operations (also known as the SHOC room) at WHO headquarters, the centre of WHO's emergency response.

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