Influenza laboratories in Cyprus, North Macedonia, Turkmenistan and Ukraine have recently received WHO formal recognition as national influenza centres (NIC). These new additions to the current network of NICs will ensure more coverage and stronger surveillance of influenza and response preparedness in the WHO European Region.
NICs now in 46 out of the Region’s 53 Member States
At the request of the countries’ ministries of health, WHO technical teams performed on-site assessments at the influenza laboratories to ascertain whether they comply with the WHO terms of reference for NICs. Their recognition is a great achievement and marks a key milestone for the influenza surveillance in the Region, as this means that 46 of the Region’s 53 Member States now have an NIC.
The Influenza Laboratory of the Microbiology Department at Nicosia General Hospital in Cyprus; the Laboratory of Virology and Molecular Diagnostics at the Institute of Public Health in Skopje, North Macedonia; and the Virological Reference Laboratory of the Centre of Public Health and Nutrition, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan are the first laboratories to be recognized in each of their respective countries. Ukraine’s Virology Reference Laboratory at the Public Health Centre of the Ministry of Health in Kyiv has also been recognized in accordance with the WHO terms of reference.
NICs to prevent pandemic influenza
NICs are institutions responsible for the laboratory surveillance of influenza. They are designated by national ministries of health and formally recognized by WHO for the purpose of participating in the work of the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS).
Official recognition by WHO is reviewed annually based on the WHO recognition criteria and a review of the laboratory’s compliance with WHO’s terms of reference for NICs.
Through GISRS, NICs in the European Region play a vital role in collecting clinical samples and isolating influenza viruses, making it possible for WHO to:
- monitor the influenza season each year
- make vaccine recommendations
- identify potential sources of pandemic influenza.
Data collected by NICs are also the basis for the Flu News Europe weekly influenza update, a joint initiative of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and WHO/Europe.
Extending the network of NICs to cover the entire European Region is therefore an important goal for WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme.