Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sandman & Lanard: WHO, Pandemic Phases & Public Preparedness

The current WHO phase of pandemic alert for avian influenza A(H5N1) is: ALERT


# 7484


Last May the internationally known, and highly regarded risk communications team of Dr. Peter Sandman and Dr. Jody Lanard wrote about the CDC’s  messaging on the H7N9 virus threat (see Sandman On H7N9 Risk Communications: Candor, but No Push to Prepare).


The Peter M. Sandman Risk Communication Website contains a wealth of invaluable risk management advice, which quite frankly should be second home for anyone involved in public relations or risk communications.

Peter Sandman Website logo


Yesterday they posted a letter from pandemic preparedness expert Eric S. Starbuck, DrPH, MPH, (see Paper: Are We Prepared For A Pandemic In Low Resource Communities?) asking (among other things) about the absence of any definitive pandemic phasing information on MERS-CoV and the H7N9 virus on the World Health Organization’s website.


As you can see by the graphic at the top of this blog, the H5N1 falls clearly in the `Alert Phase’, but a similar graphic for MERS-CoV or H7N9 are not currently posted on the WHO website.  


The closest thing I’ve found is this twitter  statement by Gregory Hartl – spokesperson for WHO – on the H7N9 virus back in April.




In response Peter & Jody take a detailed look at the World Health Organization’s new (Interim) Guidance on Pandemic Influenza Risk Management (see WHO Unveils New Pandemic Guidance) and how it presumably relates to MERS-CoV and H7N9, and their overall pandemic preparedness messaging.


I won’t even attempt to excerpt from this thoughtful 5000+ word analysis, and will instead simply make my strongest possible recommendation that you follow the link below and read it in its entirety.


Pandemic preparedness and pandemic stages re H5N1, H7N9, and MERS



Pandemic preparedness messaging is something I struggle with nearly every day in this blog, and so I know how difficult it can be to find the right `tone’; one that informs without turning people off to the message.

Agencies and organizations like WHO, CDC, ECDC and others also face the inevitable hyping of anything they say by the `tabloid press’. Then, if the worst doesn’t happen (and on the media’s time table), they can expect public excoriation.


It may not be `fair’, but it does sell papers. 


So their reluctance to come out too strongly before there is evidence of a clear and present danger is understandable. 


The suggestion by Sandman and Lanard that `other sorts of agencies – national security agencies, public works agencies, disaster response agencies, etc.’ – who are more used to dealing with the public and disaster response - get involved in the pandemic preparedness messaging makes sense to me.


Although you have to dig to find it (and already know it exists), you can find some pandemic preparedness information provided by FEMA, Ready.gov, and Flu.gov.





But I’ve seen no discernable push by either of these websites since the emergence of H7N9 or MERS-CoV to promote enhanced pandemic preparedness for the public.


The proactive pandemic preparedness messaging from federal agencies that we saw prior to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic has largely disappeared.


I suspect that the prolonged economic downturn has something to do with this, but I fear this may turn out to be penny wise and pound foolish.


For my part, I’ll continue to promote pandemic and `all hazards’ preparedness in this blog. 


Not because I’m convinced that a pandemic is on the horizon, but because I know that bad things (tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes,  and yes . . . pandemics) will happen, often with little warning.


And the advantage always goes to those who are best prepared.




And finally, my thanks to Peter & Jody for the very kind mention of this blog in their comment.

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