WHO Director-General Chan discusses H7N9, novel coronavirus

World health agencies must remain vigilant and work together to combat the H7N9 avian influenza virus and the novel coronavirus, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said on Monday.

Chan made the statement during the 66th World Health Assembly in Geneva. She discussed how experiences during the outbreak of SARS, a virus related to the novel coronavirus, led to significant revisions of the International Health Regulations to strengthen the detection and response to public health emergencies. She said the world is currently dealing with two such emergencies.

"We are dealing with two new diseases right now," Chan said. "Human infections with a novel coronavirus, from the same family as SARS, were first detected last year in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. To date, 41 cases, including 20 deaths, have been reported. Though the number of cases remains small, limited human-to-human transmission has occurred and health care workers have been infected. At the end of March this year, China reported the first-ever human infections with the H7N9 avian influenza virus. Within three weeks, more than 100 additional cases were confirmed. Although the source of human infection with the virus is not yet fully understood, the number of new cases dropped dramatically following the closing of live bird markets."

Chan said that the two new diseases remind the international health community that there is always a threat from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases.

She said that the world must collaborate to stomp out the threat of emerging diseases in a particular region before the diseases threaten the world at large.

"Going forward, we must maintain a high level of vigilance," Chan said. "I cannot overemphasize the importance of immediate and fully transparent reporting to WHO, and of strict adherence to your obligations set out in the International Health Regulations. As was the case ten years ago, the current situation demands collaboration and cooperation from the entire world. A threat in one region can quickly become a threat to all."

During her speech, Chan also discussed the upcoming Millennium Development Goals, the treatment of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and polio, the World Health Statistics Report and upcoming plans for noncommunicable diseases, mental health and the prevention of visual impairment.