Avian Flu Pandemic -- Officials Save The Date

The World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a summit focused on planning for a flu pandemic this week, November 9-11, in Geneva. By all accounts the meeting went well. All nations recognize that a flu pandemic perhaps involving H5N1 is inevitable and have expressed a commitment to cooperate in stemming the outbreaks when they occur.

The US assistant secretary to Health and Human Services, Stewart Simonson, wanted a more specific outline and "urged international health leaders to decide quickly 'what action will be taken and by whom to contain a pandemic strain when it emerges'". The Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday in "Scientists at WHO Draft Plan to Contain Outbreak of Avian Flu", that the plan would be complete by the end of the year. It involves details such as the transportation logistics of getting flu shots from the warehouses to the outbreak region via plane and truck and shuttling teams of health care workers to distibute the vaccines. Supermarkets and drugstores are being considered as distribution centers for Tamiflu.

The plan is reportedly based on epidemic modeling presented in two articles published in Nature and Science earlier this year. Acronym Required reported on these research reports in Modeling Epidemics", last August. The bottom line, says the Wall Street Journal quoting Michael Ryan, a WHO official who is charge of responding to outbreaks is that "[n]obody knows if it will work". But he added encouragingly, "we have to be ready to act".

Meanwhile, perhaps motivated by memories of aimlessly meandering trucks that set out for Louisiana and ended up in Maine after Hurricane Katrina ("The FEMA Ice Follies") or perhaps in its general, "the sky is falling", mode -- MoveOn.org put out the alarm a month ago that Stewart Simonson has "no experience related to his job - he's a political appointee". They issued a petition. Yesterday, The Nation published an online article that traces Simonson's interesting ascent from Amtrak general counsel to influential Health and Human Services (HHS) bioterror planning leader in "Germ Boys and Yes Men". Simonson apparently helped architect the controversial "Bioshield" and "Bioshield II" plans, and has now turned to focus on flu pandemic logistics. It's a great tale of familiar Bush era politics, replete with political backlashes, ruined careers, and he said/he said antagonisms.

Simonson has staunch defenders within the administration. Donald Henderson, founding director of HHS's Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness (OPHEP) asserted; "[he] may not have been qualified but he is a real learner....".

As we all know, the capricious media and cynical public are primed to chastise the public official who hasn't picked out his T.V. outfits in advance of the crisis. As the WSJ suggests, and we hope, Simonson's preparation is pandemic focused as well.

Acronym Required previously wrote about disaster preparedness with regard to Hurricane Katrina here and here. We also wrote about Avian Flu in these articles: Avian Flu v. Everyday Plagues, "Hopes For Avian Flu Vaccine"; "Modeling Epidemics", and "Avian Flu in China- Increasing Resistance", "Avian Flu Updates"

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