GENEVA - The head of the World Health Organization said on Thursday she would not hesitate to raise the global pandemic alert to the top of the six-point scale if the new H1N1 flu is spreading globally.
When I see more signals coming from the virus itself or the spread of the disease, including severity, I would not shy away from making a very difficult decision. I would not compromise the world people's health, Margaret Chan said.
For Phase 5 to Phase 6 I need to satisfy myself that this is a global phenomenon, she told the WHO's annual meeting in Geneva, where Britain, Japan, and other flu-affected countries have been calling for new criteria for declaring the full alert.
Under current WHO rules, Chan would be required to raise the pandemic alert to 6 as soon as the newly discovered flu is spreading in a sustained way in two of the world's regions, even if it continues to cause mainly mild symptoms.
Several governments have said that the general public does not understand that the pandemic scale is based on the spread of disease, and not its severity, and warned that a move to Phase 6 could spark undue panic.
I am hearing from all of you your concern about the disconnect ... We cannot leave the world's people confused, Chan told the World Health Assembly negotiating session.
I know that you have given me a lot of trust and flexibility, and this is not an easy task. I need to balance how science should play a role and not to forget about the people.
The H1N1 flu has killed 85 people and infected more than 11,000 in 41 countries, according to the WHO. The number of cases in Japan rose to 259 after another 49 cases were confirmed in the last twenty-four hours, it said.
Although large pockets have appeared outside its North American stronghold, with infections rising quickly in Japan and clusters seen in Britain and Spain, the WHO has so far kept its alert level at 5 which means a pandemic is imminent.
Chan stressed that there were few concrete changes that would take place as any increase to level 6, given that governments, businesses, and drug and vaccine makers are already working to prepare for the flu's continued spread.
All the required public health measures that are required to be activated area already activated under Phase 5. There is no gap in public health, she said.