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The fight against influenza

Long before the coronavirus (#COVID-19) arrived, the United Nations created a system to defend against the recurrence of an influenza pandemic like the 1918 flu that killed over 40 million people. In 1947, the Interim Commission of the World Health Organization (WHO) set up the Global Influenza Programme (GIP) and in 1948, the World Influenza Centre was established to monitor, analyze and desiminate health data on any epidemics. GIP passed its first major test in 1957. It identified a new influenza virus and warned national health authorities in time for countries to prepare health services and vaccines before the epidemic struck. Subsequent battles against influenza, including H5N1 in 2005, H1N1 in 2009 and, most recently, COVID-19 in 2019, were supported by an expanding number of WHO collaborating centres. The Programme provides international standards for influenza surveillance conducted through its global response system (GISRS). In March 2020, Secretary-General António Guterres remarked about COVID-19, “This war needs a war-time plan to fight it.” The most recent plan, launched in September 2020, the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19, focuses on three components: a health response guided by the WHO and its Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan; a socio-economic and a Global Humanitarian Response Plan; and a transformative recovery process that leads to more just, equal and resilient societies and economies after COVID-19.The effectiveness of those plans, however, depends on timely and accurate information. Promises of cures with no evidence of their benefit and other misinformation on social media, websites and digital channels have impeded the COVID-19 response. As a result, the United Nations added another weapon to its influenza arsenal and released “Verified”. It provides trusted information and life-saving advice and stories to everyday people. For example, the message circulated on 25 September 2020 discussed the right and wrong way to wear a mask. If you’re worried about fake news or false reports about COVID-19 click here to learn more or subscribe to Verified.

The Yearbook covers global public health and WHO activities in Part three, Chapter XIII.