WHO: collaborative research on bird flu needed
The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants more collaborative research into the bird flu virus, which could help reduce death and illness in a human influenza pandemic.
WHO officials say current international research is highly competitive and that the results of studies are often held back pending publication. This could mean a delay in their usefulness in a public health emergency.
More sharing of research was required, said Keiji Fukuda, coordinator of WHO’s global influenza programme. “In developing a WHO public health research agenda (on influenza) we are trying to push for a paradigm change,” he said at a four-day WHO meeting on bird flu. “What we hope to improve is the kind of sharing and flow of information and take it to another level.”
Some 150 experts from 30 countries took part in the meeting to update WHO’s guidance to countries on how to boost their defences against a deadly global epidemic. According to officials, the United Nations agency plans to issue new advice by year-end.
Funding and collaboration
Fukuda states that most research is driven by individual researchers but depends on the source of funding, so there is also a need to sensitise donors about priorities.
“It is really quite secretive until the information is published. It is like a poker game,” he said. “SARS showed we can develop a collaborative network to get people who are normally competitors sharing information because of a public health need,” he said.
According to Frederick Hayden, a medical officer in WHO’s global influenza programme, “By building the capacity to research we enhance the ability to deal not only with influenza but with other emerging infectious disease threats in time.”