(AP) Britain, Japan, China and other nations urged the World Health Organization on Monday to change the way it decides to declare a pandemic -- saying the agency must consider how deadly the virus is, not just how fast it is spreading.

The debate arose as WHO began its annual meeting, a five-day event attended by hundreds of health experts from the agency's 193 member nations. Swine flu is expected to dominate this year's conference — and WHO must consider whether it should raise its alert level or tell manufacturers to begin making a specific swine flu vaccine.

WHO's current system focuses on how widespread the disease has become without regard to its severity. Some member nations are anxious to avoid having the agency declare a swine flu pandemic, because the ramifications of that scientific decision could be very costly and politically charged.
"We need to give you and your team more flexibility as to whether we move to phase 6," British Health Secretary Alan Johnson said.

"It's certainly something we will look at very closely," Keiji Fukuda, WHO's flu chief, said of the proposal.

So far, the United States was noncommittal on the issue. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told The Associated Press she wanted more information on the proposal before taking a position, but that she was impressed how many countries supported it.

Health experts were examining new swine flu cases in Spain, Britain and especially Japan, where more than 130 people, the vast majority of them teenagers, have been infected, prompting the government to close 2,000 schools and cancel public events.

Source: Associated Press