Government Officials Meet about Pandemic Preparedness
Published 16th February 2006, 4:20pm
Top airport, customs, immigration, and police officials met recently with the Public Health Department for a brainstorming session on Cayman's national preparedness plan in the event of a flu pandemic.
Briefing the group on the basics of avian influenza and the current deadly H5N1 strain, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kiran Kumar said the Cayman Islands is one of the countries least under threat of seeing the disease appear in its bird population. However, he added that the Islands will not be spared should a flu pandemic start.
"Once the H5N1 virus emerges as a fully contagious disease with rapid human-to-human transmission, its global spread is considered inevitable. Given the speed and volume of international air travel, the virus could spread rapidly, reaching all continents in less than three months," Dr. Kumar explained.
Health experts worldwide have been monitoring the new and extremely severe H5N1 influenza virus. To date this virus has caused the largest and most relentless outbreaks in poultry on record. Laboratories have also confirmed more than 140 human cases since the outbreak started in Asian countries in 1997, making it the most likely virus to cause the flu pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the world is currently in the pandemic's alert period (phase three out of six), which means human-to-human transmission at this time is none to limited.
Moving to the next phase will signal increased human-to-human transmission. Phase five will indicate significant human-to-human transmission, while phase six - efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission - will be the start of the pandemic.
Cayman currently has a multi-agency surveillance programme in place to deal with the current pandemic alert phases (1-3). The national flu pandemic preparedness plan will focus on responding to phases four to six.
"We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. If a pandemic starts it could affect as much as 25 percent of the population, and cause widespread economic and social disruption, "Dr. Kumar told officials.
Up for discussion were such issues as border security, ensuring adequate medical supplies, and food and fuel security.
All departments and agencies present are developing preparedness plans, and stressed that it is vital that Cayman has a national, coordinated response to a pandemic, similar to and on the same level as the country's hurricane preparedness plan.