UAE—The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Influenza Programme, in collaboration with WHO regional offices, the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, and the Ministry of Health of the United Arab Emirates, held a critical meeting to discuss how to strengthen and expand the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) activities.

This summit took place from December 11 to 13, 2023, and brought together over 120 laboratory and surveillance professionals, as well as health officials from 62 nations, to establish and define the scope and objectives of an enlarged GISRS, the so-called “e-GISRS” concept.

The primary meeting objective was to discuss how to best adapt integrated surveillance procedures for influenza and other priority respiratory viruses, such as novel or recognized viruses with epidemic or pandemic potential.

Furthermore, the meeting aimed to identify and address gaps and needs in expanding activities beyond influenza, including the envisaged tasks and aims of e-GISRS and its coordination with other surveillance systems and networks.

During group and panel discussions, integrated surveillance techniques were discussed, and suggestions were made on how to best operationalize the standards and satisfy the workstreams’ indicated needs.

Furthermore, the importance of international cooperation in enhancing global surveillance and response capabilities against all respiratory viruses was emphasized, as well as the necessity for joint approaches to future health concerns.

 Several immediate next measures were also identified, including revising current WHO guidelines on integrated surveillance.

Using decades of knowledge and the long-established GISRS network, e-GISRS will monitor and respond to any epidemic or pandemic risks posed not only by influenza viruses but also by other respiratory viruses.

GISRS’s natural expansion began in 2015, when respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was initially incorporated into the platform.

Following the development of SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic, this process was further expedited in 2020.

As the world approaches 100 years of collaboration in combating the lethal threat of respiratory disease outbreaks, e-GISRS will provide an even stronger global foundation for the critical surveillance, preparedness, and response efforts required to protect the world from ever-changing respiratory viruses.

Prior to the meeting, two technical workstreams were established to examine evidence and existing recommendations, as well as address the laboratory and epidemiological standards required for effective influenza, RSV, and SARS-CoV-2 surveillance.

A third workstream was also established to address issues concerning coordination gaps and the requirements of e-GISRS for non-influenza respiratory virus surveillance.

Established more than 70 years ago, GISRS remains a key WHO initiative that serves as the world’s network for monitoring influenza viruses, providing recommendations on seasonal vaccine composition in both the northern and southern hemispheres, strengthening laboratory surveillance, and acting as a global alert mechanism for the emergence of viruses with pandemic potential

This critical gathering reiterated the spirit of collaboration and trust that has distinguished GISRS for over 70 years, while also bringing into closer focus the stronger, extended, and shared vision for advancing GISRS.

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