Most countries that have strategies in place to deal with a possible avian influenza pandemic have not properly tested those plans, leaving them extremely vulnerable if a major outbreak were to occur, the head of United Nations efforts to prepare such an eventuality said today.
David Nabarro, UN System Influenza Coordinator, told journalists that the lack of preparation remains a real concern given that a recent World Bank study indicated that the economic cost of a global pandemic could surpass $3 trillion.
“When planning for an extraordinary concern like an influenza pandemic, it’s not enough just to have written a plan and have everybody signing off on it,” he said. “You also have to check it, test it and make sure that it works, and then revise on the basis of assimilation.”
Dr. Nabarro launched the latest joint progress report by the UN and the World Bank on responses to “bird flu,” noting that 148 countries provided data about their plans and strategies for a potential pandemic.
Yet only 53 per cent of those nations had tested their plans in the past year, and just one quarter had done so at all levels of their government. Less than 40 per cent had incorporated lessons learned from the tests.
Dr. Nabarro said the threat of a pandemic remained the same as it was three or four years ago, adding that a major influenza outbreak did not necessarily have to come from a strain of “bird flu” such as the H5N1 virus that has afflicted some countries in recent years.
Sustained transmission of the virus among humans has not occurred so far, despite several hundred sporadic human cases and continued problems associated with some countries’ poultry industries.
Dr. Nabarro noted that no State reported that their poultry had become newly infected with H5N1 yet this year, and the number of countries with previously reported infections recording fresh outbreaks has dropped from 25 to 20.
But he voiced concern over the situation in Nigeria, which recently announced its first outbreak in almost 10 months, and in the nearby West African country of Togo, which also experienced a recent outbreak.
On Friday, government ministers and experts will gather in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for a three-day conference that will examine international efforts to prepare for a possible influenza pandemic.