Media Center

Press Release


  May 1, 2009

The Director of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, highlighted Friday the reaction of the governments in the Western Hemisphere to the outbreak of the A/H1N1 virus, in a report to a Special Meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) requested by the General Secretariat.

“The countries’ response was extraordinary,” she said. Dr. Roses Periago particularly stressed the transparency and diligence of governments in communicating among them and towards the public. She also mentioned the mutual support shown by all governments.

Dr. Roses Periago emphasized that all countries in the region without exception “are expanding their plans” to fight the virus, and that all pre-emptive plans developed lately are offering now results. “All countries are much better prepared now than five years ago.”

In the Bolivar Hall of the OAS Headquarters in Washington, DC, Dr. Roses Periago called national authorities and mass media to “be cautious and be alert but avoiding panic, because that could be counterproductive.”

The OPS Director stressed that authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), PAHO itself and national governments are working closely to minimize the effects of the outbreak and eventually fight it. The epidemiologist insisted that countries need to move forward with their regular vaccination plans against seasonal influenza.

Regarding the fight against the virus, Dr. Roses Periago specified that WHO, PAHO and the pharmaceutical industry are already working together, but the vaccine against A/H1N1 will be first available “in around seven months.”

“We still lack comprehensive information to find out the severity” of the virus, she said. Dr. Roses Periago explained that health authorities are monitoring the virus’ behavior to determine data such as its incubation period, the lapse between incubation and transmission, what population groups are affected the most and its lethality rate.

The Argentine epidemiologist also stressed that a great part of the world’s strategic reserve of antiviral drugs is kept in the Western Hemisphere, and that the A/H1N1 virus has shown to be “sensitive to two known antiviral drugs.”

Regarding the efforts to minimize the effects of the virus, Dr. Roses Periago emphasized that WHO has so far declared Phase 5 on the pandemic ranking scale following the confirmation of sustained human-to-human transmission in at least two countries in the same region, Mexico and the United States. Phase 6 would be declared if sustained human-to-human transmission was to be confirmed in a different region.

WHO advises for the moment no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders, the OPS Director reminded, although it is strongly recommended that people who are sick should postpone travel. Dr. Roses Periago also discouraged cancelling big events or gatherings, and specifically mentioned the upcoming OAS General Assembly, to be held June 2-3 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “It is too early to say. Honduras is not affected”. She also mentioned that no risk of infection from consumption of pork products has been stated.

Dr. Roses Periago informed that PAHO has an Emergency Operations Center working already 24/7 in its Headquarters in Washington, DC. PAHO is also in permanent contact with health authorities in the continent, and tomorrow will start a daily briefing on the issue.

Most of the Permanent Representatives to the OAS took the floor at the Special Meeting of the Permanent Council to explain the plans started by the governments and show their readiness to help fighting the virus. Governments of countries most affected so far by the virus also thanked the “solidarity shown by the international community.”

Reference: E-152/09