18 March 2023 – Focusing on better preparedness, early detection, rapid response, and enhanced research for respiratory diseases, the Third Scientific Conference and the sixth EMARIS meeting on acute respiratory infections in the Eastern Mediterranean Region concluded in Muscat, Oman.
Serving as a platform to showcase partnership and solidarity, the 3-day meeting and conference convened more than 200 health experts from WHO, Member States, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and partner organizations.
Besides extensive deliberations, the recommendations of the meeting and conference focused on how countries continue to sustain investment and sustain the gains made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response, especially in the context of the complex needs of emergency countries in the Region. These include the continuity of strengthening health surveillance and detection systems, elevating their readiness for potential future pandemics of influenza and other respiratory pathogens, and investing in antiviral research and vaccine production.
Leveraging lessons learned from COVID-19 pandemic response, operationalizing the One Health approach, and integrating surveillance came out strongly among the scientific discussions. Health threats such as epidemics and pandemics do not happen in isolation, and a whole health approach is essential for effectively detecting and responding to public health threats in the animal-human-environment interface.
Similarly, the control strategies and pre-pandemic risk assessments could not be well featured without structured and efficient surveillance of animal populations, which is for the benefit of both animal and human health.
Additionally, participants called for more effective data-sharing among all stakeholders in the Region, urging them to have a regional approach to virus or sequence data sharing before any outbreak, epidemic, or a pandemic emergent event.
Another recommendation focused on further enhancing surveillance related to health risks that could emerge during mass gathering events, such as hajj and umra, in the Region.
WHO experts reiterated WHO’s commitment to strengthening country capacities to prevent, prepare for, detect, and respond to disease outbreaks and other health emergencies. WHO is helping countries to integrate better surveillance, laboratories, clinical management, and public health interventions to respond to any potential outbreak including those caused by respiratory pathogens.
Moments of EMARIS 2023
The press briefing at the EMARIS 2023 included WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Richard Brennan, H.E. Dr Said Al Lamki, the Under Secretary for Health Affairs at the Ministry of Health of Oman and Dr David Wentworth, Chief of the Virology Surveillance and Diagnosis, Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Side EMARIS scientific workshops
Four scientific workshops were held at the sidelines of the EMARIS 2023, focusing on:
Burden of influenza disease estimation – experiences and new tools
One Health Approach and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) surveillance, preparedness and response
Establishment and expansion of seasonal influenza vaccination in the Region: policy and programmatic considerations and best practices
Infodemic and community listening for events of respiratory viruses caused epidemics/pandemics-learnings from COVID-19 pandemic and new tools
Scientific research exhibition
At the closing session, health leaders honoured 21 health organizations and scientists from across the Eastern Mediterranean Region who presented their research findings at the sixth meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance Network, as well as contributed significantly in recent times to enhance country and regional preparedness and response to respiratory diseases of epidemic and pandemic concern.
1. Ministry of Health of Somalia for expansion of influenza surveillance and introducing EMFLU-2 in emergency context
2. Ministry of Public Health and WHO Country team in Afghanistan for sustaining influenza program and sharing data, viruses under difficult circumstances of emergency
3. National Influenza Center in Islamic Republic of Iran for maintaining key functions and meeting requirements under difficult circumstances
4. Ministry of Health of Sultanate of Oman for timely and regularly data sharing with regional and global influenza platforms
5. National Influenza Center in Kingdom of Bahrain for consistently sharing viruses with WHO Collaborating Center in 2020/21 Season
6. Regional Reference Laboratory of United Arab Emirates for support in Eastern Mediterranean Region on strengthening laboratory capacity and networking
7. Ministry of Health of Saudi Arabia for exemplary expansion in influenza surveillance in recent years
8. Ministry of Health of Morocco for implementing integrated surveillance for influenza and respiratory pathogens
9. Ministry of Health of Egypt for sustaining RSV surveillance
10. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for sustained financial support to countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region on influenza and respiratory pathogens surveillance, preparedness and response
11. Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework for sustained support to countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region on pandemic preparedness
12. Global Health Task Force/PIVI Partnership for support to countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region on seasonal influenza vaccination
13. WHO Collaborating Centre for Surveillance, Epidemiology & Control of Influenza Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States of America for exemplary support to national influenza centres in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
14. WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza The Francis Crick Institute, United Kingdom for exemplary support to national influenza centres in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
15. GISRS Team and Network for their work on influenza surveillance
16. WHO IMST Team (country and regional teams ) for COVID-19 pandemic response work
17. Ministry of Health of Oman for hosting the Third Scientific Conference and sixth meeting of the EMARIS Network
18. The Best Innovative Research Methodology Award to Ms Aicha Boukthir from Tunisia for her research: “High-risk groups regarding influenza vaccine update in Tunisia: A qualitative study”
19. The Best Poster Award to Dr Omar Elahmer from Libya for his research: “Biorisk management to strengthening laboratory capacity for sample management and inventory: A North Africa Regional Collaboration”
20. Best Oral Presentation Award to Mrs Zeina Farah from Lebanon for her research: “Estimation of the influenza-associated hospitalization rates using sentinel surveillance data, Lebanon 2015-2020”
21. Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr Talat Mokhtari Azad for his work in the field of influenza and respiratory pathogens surveillance
Eastern Mediterranean Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance (EMARIS)Muscat, Oman 13–15 March 2023
EMARIS 2023 scientific programme
Special issue of Influenza and Оther Respiratory Viruses Journal on EMARIS Conference
Press release: Health experts discuss acute respiratory infections and epidemic and pandemic preparedness in the Eastern Mediterranean Region
Regional Director’s statement to the sixth meeting of the Eastern Mediterranean Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance (EMARIS) Network
Regional Director’s address to the Third Eastern Mediterranean Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance (EMARIS) Conference
Eastern Mediterranean Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance (EMARIS)
Muscat, Oman 13–15 March 2023
WHO Global Influenza Strategy for 2019‒2030
Seasonal influenza vaccination toolkit