Influenza remains an ever-present threat, with the potential to cause a pandemic. Seasonal epidemics cause substantial morbidity and mortality, costs to health services and economic losses due to work absenteeism, reflecting the need for effective prevention and control measures. In this respect, the foundation for influenza preparedness lies within strong influenza prevention and control programs – something that WHO, Member States and other stakeholders are continuously working to implement, through the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS), the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework and supporting activities.
As part of these preparedness efforts, advocacy and trainings around the prevention and management of influenza are critical to strengthen health systems’ capacities. It is against this backdrop that in October 2021, WHO launched the English version of the Influenza Prevention and Control course through the OpenWHO platform. This free online course provides an overview of the tools needed to prevent and control influenza and is tailored for health workers and other stakeholders involved in preventing and treating influenza.
Specifically, the course contains four modules on:
· The importance of seasonal influenza vaccination programs, as influenza vaccination is currently the principal means of reducing or counteracting influenza mortality and morbidity burden in the community.
· Seasonal influenza vaccine types, administration, and target groups: recommendations for the viral composition of influenza vaccines are updated periodically based on data collected through the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS).
· Influenza diagnostics: diagnostics are a critical component of epidemic and pandemic response and increasing access to them is a key goal of the PIP Framework.
· Influenza therapeutics: WHO continuously monitors new evidence for influenza antivirals and adjunctive therapies, and supports access to therapeutics through the PIP Framework.
Since the launch of the course, 21,259 enrollments have been recorded and as of January 2023, multilingual versions of the course in all UN languages and Portuguese have been added to OpenWHO.
Nearly 10,000 course registrants identify as medical professionals, including clinicians, nurses, and midwives, or students. This is of particular importance as health-care workers are a key entry point for the population, including those most at risk, helping them to obtain advice and protect their health. Enhancing their understanding of what needs to be done to effectively prevent and control influenza will therefore translate into higher numbers of people being protected and prepared for influenza.
The OpenWHO course remains a key tool to raise awareness of influenza disease prevention and control approaches, and to equip countries to strengthen their influenza programs, in line with WHO’s recommendations.