South-East Asia stakeholder forum for pandemic influenza preparedness

In October 2022, stakeholders in pandemic influenza preparedness (PIP) from across WHO’s South-East Asia Region (SEAR) came together for their annual meeting to share experiences, discuss implementation challenges and agree priorities for action.

The meeting was an opportunity to review progress towards delivering the the PIP Framework’s Partnership Contribution (PC) High-Level Implementation Plan II 2018–2023 (HLIP-II) in the region. Participants included representatives from PIP PC recipient countries, the PIP secretariat, WHO regional and country offices and diverse partners who provide countries with technical support.

Deviating from its usual format, this year’s stakeholder forum included a session for the independent PIP Framework Advisory Group to engage with participants and for them to better understand the SEAR perspective and help bridge global policies with regional implementation. The Advisory Group provided an overview of their latest recommendations and heard from participants about a wide range of country activities and the specific challenges faced in the region. The session also included a discussion on the feasibility of fitting PIP PC implementation into broader influenza and other respiratory pathogen pandemic preparedness in SEAR.

Another new feature of the 2022 stakeholder forum was a session for technical experts to share best practices in pandemic influenza preparedness. Participants heard from a wide range of experts from academic institutions and other centres of excellence in Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Thailand. Speakers shared their experiences, expertise and best practices in genomic sequencing, bio-safety and risk management, zoonotic influenza, oxygen eco-systems and influenza bibliometric analysis, among other topics. Their inputs were designed to inspire and provide opportunities for the mobilization of similar expertise to support PIP PC recipient countries achieve their project deliverables.

The stakeholders concluded their meeting by agreeing collective actions to progress pandemic influenza preparedness in the region, including:

WHO South-East Asia Regional Office to continue engaging Member States to monitor and help implement initiatives across the six outputs of HLIP-II. Participants noted that countries will need to use centres of excellence within and beyond the region to ensure quality deliverables.

SEAR Member States to prepare for the planned evaluation and audit of HLIP-II in the region.

SEAR Member States to consider integrating SARS-CoV-2 and where possible respiratory syncytial virus to their existing influenza sentinel surveillance systems, to allow broader respiratory disease preparedness and harmonize resources at the country level.

PIP PC recipient countries to consider incorporating lessons learnt during the pandemic into their national influenza pandemic preparedness plans in 2023, and to use the same opportunity to update their deployment plans of pandemic products.

SEAR Member States to continue timely and consistent sharing of virological and epidemiological data to global platforms; and, with WHO’s assistance, continue planning to ship influenza virus samples to the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS).

Each of these action points aims to ensure regional influenza readiness by helping to implement the PIP Framework and Global Influenza Strategy 2019–2030 in SEAR.