With everyone on tenterhooks over the confusing outbreak of human bird flu cases in Pakistan and the first reported case in Burma (aka Myanmar), WHO is taking the opportunity to give its member nations a pep talk about swift reporting. Since there is evidence the reporting might not have been so terribly swift in that case, one must assume they consider this a “teachable moment” rather than an exemplar:
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Sunday praised Asian countries for swiftly reporting the latest bird flu cases after Pakistan and Myanmar were hit by a resurgence of the disease.
Asia-Pacific spokesman Peter Cordingley said prompt notification was helping keep the virus in check after Pakistan announced its first human death and Myanmar revealed its first human case.
“People have learned that hiding cases just makes things worse,” Cordingley told AFP [Agence France Presse].
This month China, which has previously been accused of withholding information, reported its 27th bird flu death and Indonesia, the worst hit country, reached 93.
Outbreaks have also been reported among poultry in Germany and Russia as bird flu, which has killed more than 200 people worldwide since late 2003, re-emerges. (Agency France Presse)
Getting countries to report promptly will remain a struggle. There are lots of reasons for delay, many of them specific to particular geographic regions, political realities and functioning infrastructure. In the Pakistan and Myanmar cases things could have been much worse but they could also have been better. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference but the principle is clear and WHO is trying to punch it home. WHO has had its own credibility problems, of course. Maybe this is a good time to give them a pep talk, too. More transparency, please.
But there is a curious coda to the WHO news story (a story WHO clearly wanted told, so we assume they also want this part told, too). Cordingly observes that flu season was upon us, that birds got the flu, too, even before humans, and because of wild bird migration and human caused poultry movement (legal and illegal) bird flu will continue to spread unless … unless what?
“This virus will continue. We cannot fight it on a public health front, it depends on how farmyards and chickens are raised and that is a long-term fight,” he said.
What’s the take home lesson here? What does it mean to say we “cannot fight it on the public health front”? Vaccines for humans and poultry are surely weapons on the public health front. More importantly, however, public health and social service systems are the public health front. I would think an essential message here would be that along with trying to stop a pandemic emerging from the current panzootic of avian influenza, an effort that is likely to fall short, we should be preparing for the consequences of a pandemic.
That means turning our attention to the global, national and local public health front. Or am I missing something?