Saturday, July 11, 2009

H1N1 (aka American flu) - dying embers of a spurious fire

So Minister Khaw reckons the battle for H1N1 is almost over.

I think everyone is just kinda hoping that everything will blow over quite quietly with as little egg on people's faces as possible.

I do agree though, it's true that we should be looking to learn whatever lessons we can from this global event. And I really hope they will do it honestly and not sweep stuff under the carpet, in the interest of looking good.

Some lessons worth learning, I think:

a] How did the world get it so wrong?

Quite clearly the virus is nowhere is virulent as was initially made out to be. No, Minister Khaw.... the virus isn't getting weaker. It wasn't that 'strong' in the first place. Somehow data collected in those early days just massively inflated fatality risks of the novel flu.

We need to seriously look at how global flu data is collected, and have a better idea of credibility of data when they do appear.

b] How do we manage public health information in the context of a pandemic?

I don't agree with Minister that the whole thing was managed well and that the public has done well in managing the pandemic. I think the public did try their best in dealing with the very confused signals appearing. But the whole thing could have been managed much better. All those messages about how serious this whole thing was, just wasn't very convincing to much of the public, and very early became viewed as a massive nuisance that people had to bear when few were at all convinced it was a serious flu pandemic. Now that it is blowing over without much of a fanfare, is just confirming in everyone's minds, that this has been a complete overreaction.

I know that this is being said with the wisdom of hindsight, but I think the uneventful outcome wouldn't have been very different even if nothing much had been done in the first place. So I don't think there is any credit due anyone, that not much damage had been done by the novel virus.

I am not making these comments flippantly, because I think it is very important to be honest about these deficiencies because the next pandemic might well be a real one....and a bad one at that. We need to have more confidence in the data collected, and have a proper and accurate diagnosis of risks as early as possible. And we need real decisive leadership to know when to turn off the alarm, when we recognize that it is false. It goes without saying that in the management of a real pandemic, a very strong and clear buy in by the public is critical in order to make pandemic management effective. This did not happen.

c] Resourcing for the pandemic management was woefully inadequate.

Surprising especially as we had struggled so much through the SARS experience. So it is strike two, ...but we are not quite up to scratch.


Anonymous said...

its dying? I thought its become too widespread to contain or mitigate and is just considered another variant of "seasonal flu"


gigamole said...

well....not literally dying....but fading from people's consciousness as it becomes just another variant of the common flu. The pandemic fire is just merely embers now isn't it?