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  • Mexican scientists reflect on swine flu lessons

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Mexico's deadly swine flu outbreak exposed tensions between the country's academic scientists, on the one hand, and its government laboratories, on the other -- as well as its failure to invest enough in science and technology, say analysts.

Mexico never expected to be the epicentre of a virus epidemic and so, when influenza A(H1N1) struck in spring 2009, the country was thrown into chaos, scientifically unprepared for such a catastrophe.

As well as coping with the small size of its scientific community Mexico also had contend with science–policy tensions.

"We were severely criticised for sending samples of the suspected [A(H1N1)] cases to the Public Health Agency of Canada and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," said evolutionary biologist Antonio Lazcano. He said that policymakers did not appreciate that public universities in other countries could offer a well-established scientific community that was willing to help.

There has also been a lack of both sharing of clinical materials and trust between the Mexican government's testing system and academic labs in the country.

"We can provide state-of-the-art technology and human resources to help them [but] there was no response, no interest", said virologist Susana Lopez Charreton from the National University of Mexico's Institute of Biotechnology.

The country has also contended with a lack of co-ordination within the academic community and very few articles published in peer-reviewed journals.

Subsequently, however, the Mexican government has invested US$330 million in vaccines, antivirals, laboratory equipment and other such supplies, and a priority vaccination programme is underway. And state-owned company BIRMEX (Biologicals and Reactives of Mexico) has an investment of US$250 million to begin producing around 25 million doses of vaccine within the next two years, following security and stability tests.

"It has been a great mistake not to have given priority to investment in the development of science and technology," said BIRMEX director Ponce de Leon.

Link to abstract in Cell

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