May 10, 2009

Changes in WHO alert system called for

The swine flu outbreak shows that the World Health Organization needs a better warning system to reflect the severity of epidemics, a U.S. doctor says.

The WHO needs a mechanism to dial down the anxiety levels while educating us about the extent of the transmission, said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the preventive medicine department at Vanderbilt University, reported the New York times.

The newspaper reported Sunday that even though the swine flu epidemic has eased and it no longer dominates that nation's airwaves, WHO still has not relaxed its epidemic alert level because it is based on the geographical spread of disease outbreaks rather than their lethality.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan told the Times lessons she learned from the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS -- in which she was accused of not responding quickly enough -- have shaped her philosophy.

That helped me to understand that managing a high pressure crisis that affects life and suffering of so many people, I need to approach it with a sense of urgency, she said.