Pandemic controversies: The global response to pandemic influenza must change

'Evil' scientists, deadly viruses and terrorist plots are usually the preserve of Hollywood blockbusters. But when it comes to pandemic influenza, it is the stuff of real life. As controversy about research into the H5N1 bird flu virus continues, a new paper argues for a complete overhaul of current approaches to pandemic preparedness.

To Pandemic or Not? Reconfiguring Global Responses to Influenza, by Dr Paul Forster, of the ESRC STEPS Centre, investigates the H1N1 of 2009-10 and sets out some vital lessons if we are to prepare for pandemic influenza effectively, while avoiding confusing and costly mistakes.

When the H1N1 outbreak in 2009-10 was milder than the had predicted, WHO was accused of colluding with the pharmaceutical industry and national governments of squandering billions. The Council of Europe said US$18 billion was wasted, and branded WHO's actions "one of the greatest medical scandals of the century". The event revealed weaknesses in the world's current configuration of planning for and responding to pandemic influenza, according to Dr Forster.

Science, public health policy makers and the worldwide public were confounded by the uncertainty, complexity and politics of and the high emotions it inspires. Amid this confusion, the global and national institutions responsible for protecting public health were shown to be over-reliant on a reductive, science-led approach that prioritised a one-size-fits-all response, and failed to address the needs and priorities of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Dr Forster suggests new ways to construct plural responses more suited to tackling the globalised mix of politics, people and pathogens that pandemics produce.

"Preparing for an means preparing for surprises and being ready to respond rapidly and flexibly under conditions of uncertainty. If people across the globe are to be ready, plural and diverse response pathways are required," said Dr Forster, an independent development consultant and STEPS Centre researcher. "The world would be better protected by a re-ordering of and response efforts around the needs of the world's poorest, most vulnerable, and most exposed people," he added.

A re-ordered response would allow the undue pre-eminence of pharmaceuticals to be examined, and bring focus on the pressing need for disease surveillance in animals, scrutiny of contemporary agricultural practices and a broadening of research efforts. It might also refresh the World Health Organization's approach, which Dr Forster believes supports an inflexible and narrow set of interests by default, rather than conspiracy.

With most flu experts agreeing that it is not so much a question of if, but rather when, a new pandemic will arrive, the sooner the lessons of outbreaks such as that in 2009-10 can be learned, the better.

More information: Paper To Pandemic or Not? Reconfiguring Global Responses to Influenza, by Paul Forster: steps-centre.org/publication/pandemics-wp/

Briefing Swine Flu: What went Wrong? A short briefing based on the Working Paper by Paul Forster: steps-centre.org/publication/s… erralDomain=briefing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Of swine, birds and men -- pandemic H1N1 flu

Feb 01, 2010

Current research suggests that pandemic H1N1 influenza of swine origin has distinct means of transmission from the seasonal flu, yet does not result in the pathogenic severity of avian flu viruses. The related report by ...

Avian flu threat: New approach needed

Oct 23, 2008

As the first globally co-ordinated plan for the planet's gravest health threats is hatched by government ministers from around the world this weekend, a new report sets out a 10-point plan for this new, globalised approach ...

Global swine flu pandemic deaths pass 10,000: WHO

Dec 18, 2009

The number of swine flu deaths worldwide passed the 10,000 mark about eight months after the pandemic strain was uncovered in April, reaching 10,582, World Health Organisation data showed Friday.

Lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic

Oct 18, 2010

The H1N1 pandemic influenza provided several important lessons that may help in preparing for future influenza outbreaks, write Drs. Donald Low and Allison McGeer in an analysis in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). ...

Recommended for you

Ebola in mind, US colleges screen some students

1 hour ago

University students from West Africa may be subject to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate their campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in ...

Senegal confirms its first case of Ebola (Update)

1 hour ago

A man infected with Ebola traveled to Senegal, becoming the first recorded in this country of an outbreak that has hit four other West African countries and has killed more than 1,500 people, the Ministry ...

WHO: More Ebola cases in past week than any other

2 hours ago

The past week has seen the highest increase of Ebola cases since the outbreak in West Africa began, the World Health Organization said Friday, offering more evidence that the crisis is worsening.

Guidelines presented for diagnosing focal liver lesions

17 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Focal liver lesions (FLLs) are mostly benign, and can be diagnosed based on knowledge of their presentation, associated clinical and laboratory features, and natural history, according to clinical ...

User comments