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CDC and International Partners Examine 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Response

International Program Highlight

Neighborhood in Tunisia, Photo by Mary Hoelscher.

Neighborhood in Tunisia, Photo by Mary Hoelscher.

Enhancing and expanding the international pandemic response system was the topic of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent conference in Tunisia, “Strengthening the Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN).”

Participants from more than 100 WHO partner countries and agencies gathered to examine lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. During the crisis, GISN played a critical role in helping coordinate the international response by collecting essential strain data to help detect any changes in the virus and understand the spread of pandemic influenza. The conference focused on forming strategies to maximize the system’s effectiveness for future public health events.

Four members of CDC’s Influenza Division attended the conference to share best practices learned from the 2009 H1N1 emergency. Ann Moen, associate director for Extramural Programs, discussed present and future support of the CDC’s cooperative agreement program. Dr. Xu Xiyan, lead of the Virus Reference Team, proposed initiatives to improve and further develop the GISN. Dr. Alexander Klimov, chief of the Virus Surveillance and Diagnosis Branch, reviewed lessons learned from the pandemic, and Program Manager Mary Hoelscher outlined CDC’s Influenza Reagent Resource (IRR) program, which distributed materials necessary to perform tests for influenza virus during and after the pandemic. As of the fall, 2010, the IRR had distributed more than 16,000 reagents to 517 laboratories in 146 countries.

“Communication between WHO, partnering agencies and coordinating centers was instrumental in assessing the burden of the pandemic and coordinating the best possible response,” said Hoelscher. “The WHO conference gave everyone an opportunity to share experiences from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response so we can plan effectively for the future.”

GISN’s success was due in part to the formation of National Influenza Centers (NICs), institutions that operate within a country under the certification of WHO and the country’s Ministry of Health. At the centers, researchers collect patient specimens and perform virus isolation, identify influenza types and subtypes among isolates, report results to the GISN, and train agencies within an NIC’s regional network. NIC data help inform the bi-annual influenza vaccine strain selection process. As liaisons between WHO and the host country’s government, NICs also help during a public health crisis. Currently, there are 134 NICs operating in 104 countries.

The CDC’s Influenza Division provides international technical assistance and support to WHO and more than 40 countries to enhance laboratory capacity and surveillance for influenza. Since 2007, 25 new NICs have opened, and 12 of those received direct support from CDC.