PAHO drives evidence-generation on the burden of influenza through strategic research initiatives

Together with Member States, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is driving evidence-generation on the burden of influenza and other respiratory diseases to inform policy making, vaccination programmes, and the regional operational research agenda.

In collaboration with Member States, PAHO, is advancing the operational research agenda for influenza and respiratory viruses in the Americas through the SARInet Plus Burden of Disease Working Group. SARInet stands for the ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Infections network’. Active engagement, collaboration and evidence generation are driving the regional agenda in order to maintain research capabilities, and ensure national estimates shape policies, evaluate interventions, and improve pandemic preparedness. Supported by the Partnership Contribution of the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework, this regional initiative aims to narrow the knowledge gap in understanding the burden of influenza.

Generating regional evidence

PAHO conducted a comprehensive analysis in 2022 and 2023 on the morbidity and mortality associated with influenza and COVID-19 in the Region of the Americas using data from 2010 to 2023. Aligned with global strategies, the analyses aimed to generate data for vaccination impact studies, feed potential cost-effectiveness analyses and enhance national pandemic readiness. Objectives included producing national and regional estimates of respiratory hospitalizations and mortality associated with COVID-19 and updating influenza-related estimates.

Preliminary findings, covering 70% of the region’s population, estimate almost 350,000 annual influenza-related hospitalizations. These data, essential for decision-making, suggest approximately 55 million cases of mild influenza disease per year in the Americas. While preliminary, these results will guide prevention and control strategies for seasonal influenza and should encourage Member States to improve seasonal influenza vaccination coverage to reduce this burden.

Presenting findings to Member States

In November 2023, the 2nd Regional Meeting on the Burden of Influenza and Impact of the Influenza Vaccine was held in Washington D.C. This meeting provided Member States and PAHO the opportunity to share the findings of this analysis, emphasize the importance of a standardized approach to estimating disease burden and vaccination impact and advance the operational research agenda.

PAHO presented preliminary regional estimates, highlighting the need for collaboration on addressing the burden of respiratory disease. Countries also outlined efforts to evaluate the current burden of influenza and vaccination impact, highlighting challenges in data integration and communicating findings. Participants also emphasized data availability and integrating information systems as critical for strengthening operational research. There was a push to actively engage in networks like SARInet Plus to sustain collaborative efforts and research capabilities. The crucial role of burden of disease studies in decision-making was emphasized to evaluate existing vaccination programmes and the introduction of new vaccines.

These research capacities are now being expanded towards estimating RSV-associated burden and seasonality, and will be pivotal for countries to inform policy-making and potentially introduce RSV vaccines.

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