Global flu pandemic: preparing for the unknown

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Despite the warnings of scientists worldwide, few countries have detailed plans in place for tackling a widely predicted influenza pandemic — and not many of those are the Asian countries where a pandemic is likely to originate.

Moreover, many developing countries simply cannot afford to stockpile anti-influenza drugs, as the World Health Organization is urging.

In this article in Nature, Alison Abbott reports on the obstacles facing such countries. Public health experts, says Abbott, suggest that the World Health Organization could create an international stockpile that countries too poor to buy drugs could access.

In theory, if a flu outbreak in a developing country were treated quickly, with sufficient doses of effective drugs, the virus’s spread could be stopped. But Abbott points out that the poor infrastructure in the Asian countries at risk means this might not be feasible.

Some of the difficulty in devising plans to cope with a pandemic is the inherent uncertainty involved, says Abbott. For instance, nobody knows which sections of the population would be worst affected and how severe the illness would be.

Also, the knowledge that there will not be enough drugs for everyone means that governments will be forced to prioritise some citizens — such as healthcare workers or those crucial to the economy — over others.

Link to full article in Nature