No announcement yet.

U.N. expert talks of bird flu, world health

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • U.N. expert talks of bird flu, world health


    U.N. expert talks of bird flu, world health
    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Chances are good that the next great human influenza pandemic will begin in Asia, just as SARS and the current epidemic of bird flu appears to have done, which is why Dr. David Nabarro was in Seattle on Wednesday.

    Nabarro is a physician with a daunting job. As the United Nations' point man for avian and human influenza, he is responsible for protecting the planet from a disease outbreak that could rapidly kill 150 million people.
    Nabarro participated Wednesday in the Pacific Health Summit. The two-day meeting, an invitation-only event featuring nearly 300 health, science and policy experts from Asia and the U.S., will conclude today at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center.

    The annual summit was launched last year to foster a dialogue between American and Asian policymakers, scientists and industrial leaders aimed at creating more efficient and progressive approach to health -- one focused more on disease prevention than treatment.

    Nabarro, formerly chief of the World Health Organization's effort against malaria (known as the Roll Back Malaria campaign), has worked for more than a quarter-century on a variety of international health problems, including the crises in Darfur, Sudan, and the emergency health response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

    In August 2003, Nabarro was among a team of U.N. health experts in Baghdad working with Iraqi health officials to rebuild the health-service infrastructure damaged following the U.S. invasion. A bomb, attributed to a group led by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, injured Nabarro and killed many of his colleagues.

    The Seattle P-I pulled Nabarro aside Wednesday for a few minutes to ask his perspective on bird flu, the threat of a human flu pandemic and the general state of the health of the planet.

    The threat of bird flu's spawning a massive human influenza pandemic appears to have become less urgent to the public and policymakers lately. Some experts are even suggesting that a major human flu pandemic appears unlikely, at this point. What do you think?

    "Since January, H5N1 avian influenza" -- the strain of bird flu experts have been most worried about -- "has moved into at least 30 new countries. That's double the number of infected countries we had in the preceding two and a half years.

    "And you've also got an increased number of sporadic human cases and deaths. Indonesia is particularly worrisome.

    "So, yes, we remain fearful the virus could change and become more efficient in terms of sustained human-to-human transmission.
    "That would quickly become a pretty big problem.

    "When I read reports from people saying this threat has been exaggerated or, with certainty, it's not going to happen, I just ask myself what's the basis of their information. ...

    "I think it would be extremely foolish not to get prepared. We now have the opportunity."

    What should we be doing that we're not already doing?
    "Public health defenses (such as disease surveillance and tracking) have been let down in many countries, and now we're playing catch-up. The fact that we've let down our defenses is why it took us so long to come to terms with HIV/AIDS, and it may be why, in the last few years, we've had such a difficult time getting on top of outbreaks of infectious diseases. We are unlikely in our lifetime to tackle many of these with a single pill or vaccine. There have been some successes, but for the most part we're going to have to live with the threat of these diseases for our entire lives.

    "We need to be investing in our defense against these diseases, everywhere."

    How would you characterize the state of the planet's health?
    "It varies greatly, country by country. But I have to say a lot of it, how you're doing, has to do with wealth. If you're wealthier, you're healthier. I am concerned that the drivers of inequity globally are today pretty strong, and if poor people are sick, they stay poor. It's a vicious spiral. So people who want to improve the state of global health need to also be champions of the cause of equity."

    The man said to be responsible for bombing your U.N. office in Baghdad and killing your friends was killed recently. Any thoughts on that experience in global health?

    "We were working mostly on child and maternal health services with some really great people. It was, of course, a difficult time but the Iraqi officials were really trying to make it work.

    "I had gone to report to Sergio (Vieira de Mello, the chief U.N. diplomat in Iraq) when there was this extraordinary blast. I still can't hear out of my right ear.

    "There was a lot of blood, screaming. I lost some very close friends, but was fortunate to have only been bloodied. The people who did this saw us as symbols of something they despised and wanted us destroyed.

    "But they just destroyed an effort intended to help the Iraqi people themselves."

    <HR align=left width="50%" noShade SIZE=1>P-I reporter Tom Paulson can be reached at 206-448-8318 or
    ? 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
    "The next major advancement in the health of American people will be determined by what the individual is willing to do for himself"-- John Knowles, Former President of the Rockefeller Foundation