Currently the world is still not in a full H1N1 pandemic, but it is even closer to a pandemic than last week, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said on Thursday. "Now we are not in phase 6 yet. But we are closer to phase 6 today than we were last week," Chan said, referring to the highest level of the WHO's pandemic alert scale.
Speaking to Xinhua in an interview, Chan said the WHO is following very closely the development of the A/H1N1 flu situation in Europe, in Asia as well as in South America.
"We need to look at whether or not the criteria for phase 6 is met," she said.
According to the WHO's current pandemic alert system, phase 6 will mean the H1N1 flu virus causes sustained and community-level human-to-human transmission in regions outside of North America, so far the only region where community-level outbreak has already occurred.
But a number of countries have suggested that the WHO should consider not only the geographic spread of the disease but also its severity before declaring a full pandemic. As so far the new virus has caused mainly mild infections in countries outside of Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Chan said the WHO "is receptive" to countries' concerns, but it needs to consult with experts to see how the criteria for declaring a pandemic might be adjusted.
"We need to consult with experts and see in what way we can indicate the nature and the severity of the illness without compromising, without forgetting the importance of geographical spread," she said.