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WHO:  World Cannot Sustain Another Influenza Pandemic

The World Health Organization says the world's health care system is not ready for another influenza pandemic, which could kill a large number of people, particularly in developing countries.

At the World Health Organization's Global Influenza Program, Medical Officer Nikki Shindo says Africa urgently needs an Influenza Surveillance Network. She says the WHO's Global Network operates in 83 countries, but not in Africa. Its job is to monitor outbreaks of influenza and get help to affected areas rapidly.

The World Health Organization says recent influenza outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Madagascar had a devastating affect.

Congo is still in the grips of an epidemic, which, according to the Congolese Ministry of Health, has struck more than 1.5 million people, and killed over 2,000. WHO says a similar outbreak in Madagascar last summer killed more than 800 people and severely strained the country's health care system.

Medical Officer Shindo says people in developing countries are at greater risk of dying from influenza than are people in richer countries. "There are so many vulnerable populations in Africa, in terms of nutrition status and other underlying conditions, like HIV, Malaria," he said.

Dr. Shindo said Africa is afflicted by so many life-threatening diseases, that little attention has been paid to influenza, until recently. She said vaccinations, which could protect people against the illness, are not readily available.