The U.N. secretary-general says if and when the world faces a severe influenza pandemic, the U.N. system is prepared. Ban Ki-moon briefed members of the U.N. General Assembly in an informal session.
The U.N. chief cautioned that a pandemic is possible, but if one is declared it would be a statement about the geographic spread of the Influenza A-H1N1 virus, not its severity.
"Fortunately, the world is better prepared than ever to deal with a pandemic," he said.
He said he is convening a meeting in Geneva in two weeks that would bring together donors and the private sector to explore how both sides could contribute to a collective global response.
Ban: clear communication is essential
The secretary-general said the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people are at stake, and it is essential that leaders communicate clearly about what is known, and what to do, about a possible pandemic.
"That means calling the outbreak by its proper name - Influenza A-H1N1," Ban noted. "Swine flu has been a misleading and damaging misnomer, as there has been no evidence that cases are occurring as a result of contact with pigs or pork."
He said overreactions that will not help contain the spread of the virus, but which will hurt economies and societies should be avoided. He said those include unnecessary travel restrictions and the banning of certain goods.
More than 1,000 confirmed cases
World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan spoke to the General Assembly via a video link from Geneva. She said there are more than 1,000 laboratory confirmed cases in 20 countries, but the virus has not reached pandemic levels yet.
Dr. Chan said the influenza pandemic alert level remains at phase 5, which means there must be a high level of vigilance and continued monitoring of the further spread of the virus.
"We do not know how long we will have until we move to phase 6," Dr. Chan said. "Phase 6 indicates that we are in pandemic. We are not there yet. The criteria will be met when we see in another region outside North America showing very clear evidence of community level transmission."
Working with pharmaceutical industry
Dr. Chan said no one can predict how the situation will evolve or whether the world will enter a pandemic.
She said she is working with the international pharmaceutical industry to secure access to affordable drugs and pandemic vaccine should it be required. She is paying particular attention to the needs of developing countries, and said she has begun dispatching the World Health Organization's current stockpile of anti-viral drugs to 70 mostly developing countries.