Background: The Western Pacific Region (WPR) is exposed each year to seasonal influenza and is often the source of new influenza virus variants and novel pathogen emergence. National influenza surveillance systems play a critical role in detecting emerging viruses, monitoring influenza epidemics, improving public disease awareness and promoting pandemic preparedness, but vary widely across WPR countries. The aim of this study is to improve existing influenza surveillance systems by systematically comparing selected WPR influenza surveillance systems.
Methods: Three national influenza surveillance systems with different levels of development (Australia, China and Malaysia) were compared and their adherence to World Health Organization (WHO) guidance was evaluated using a structured framework previously tested in several European countries consisting of seven surveillance sub-systems, 19 comparable outcomes and five evaluation criteria. Based on the results, experts from the Asia-Pacific Alliance for the Control of Influenza (APACI) issued recommendations for the improvement of existing surveillance systems.
Results: Australia demonstrated the broadest scope of influenza surveillance followed by China and Malaysia. In Australia, surveillance tools covered all sub-systems. In China, surveillance did not cover non-medically attended respiratory events, primary care consultations, and excess mortality modelling. In Malaysia, surveillance consisted of primary care and hospital sentinel schemes. There were disparities between the countries across the 5 evaluation criteria, particularly regarding data granularity from health authorities, information on data representativeness, and data communication, especially the absence of publicly available influenza epidemiological reports in Malaysia. This dual approach describing the scope of surveillance and evaluating the adherence to WHO guidance enabled APACI experts to make a number of recommendations for each country that included but were not limited to introducing new surveillance tools, broadening the use of specific existing surveillance tools, collecting and sharing data on virus characteristics, developing immunization status registries, and improving public health communication.
Conclusions: Influenza monitoring in Australia, China, and Malaysia could benefit from the expansion of existing surveillance sentinel schemes, the broadened use of laboratory confirmation and the introduction of excess-mortality modelling. The results from the evaluation can be used as a basis to support expert recommendations and to enhance influenza surveillance capabilities.