The 62th World Health Organization's annual assembly opened Monday in Geneva, WHO Director General Margaret Chan told the 193 member states that WHO is prepared to lead the global public health emergency especially if the influenza H1N1 escalates.

He said the world today faced the prospect of the first influenza pandemic of this century. And it is more vulnerable to the adverse effects of the influenza pandemic that it was in 1986, when the last pandemic began.

We have to care about equity. We have to care about fair play, she said. Dr Chan also noted that 85% of the burden of chronic diseases was concentrated in low-income and middle-income countries, which meant that the developing world had by far the largest pool of people at risk for severe and fatal H1N1 infections.

With regard to the criteria for a move to Phase 6, Dr Chan said she had listened to the comments made by Member States during a high-level consultation earlier in the day. As the chief technical officer of this Organization, I will follow your instructions closely, particularly concerning criteria for a move to Phase 6, in discharging my duties and responsibilities to Members States.

She said that concerns about a pandemic should not overshadow, or interrupt other vital health programs.

WHO is prepared to lead the response to a global public health emergency. Our services, in several areas, are strained, but we are coping. We need to be assured that we continue to function well, especially if the emergency escalates. she said in a special debate on the new influenza H1N1 virus.