The World Health Organization is holding its 64th World Health Assembly, and one of the big topics is the post-mortem report on how the world coped with the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
An expert panel, chaired by Dr. Harvey Fineberg President of the IOM, has delivered a 180 page report that outlines what when right, and what went wrong, with the world’s pandemic response.
We saw a preview of this report last March (see IHR Review Committee Report On The Pandemic Of 2009), which gave the WHO a mixed grade for their handling of the pandemic, giving good marks in some areas, while citing a number of shortcomings in others.
The final report, issued May 5th, is called
Report of the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations (2005) in relation to Pandemic (H1N1) 2009
In the summary, Dr. Fineberg writes:
Pandemics can be fearsome teachers. No matter what one believes about the response to the 2009
pandemic by WHO and other authorities, all must be grateful that relatively few people died.
Influenza viruses are notoriously unpredictable. We were lucky this time, but as the report concludes, the world is ill-prepared for a severe pandemic or for any similarly global, sustained and threatening public-health emergency.
We respectfully offer this assessment to all countries in the hope that our recommendations will assist in making the world a safer place.
While there is a great deal of detail and many recommendations in this final report, the authors offered three overriding conclusions.
Summary conclusion 1
The IHR helped make the world better prepared to cope with public health emergencies. The core national and local capacities called for in the IHR are not yet fully operational and are not now on a path to timely implementation worldwide.
Summary conclusion 2
WHO performed well in many ways during the pandemic, confronted systemic difficulties and demonstrated some shortcomings. The Committee found no evidence of malfeasance.
Summary conclusion 3
The world is ill-prepared to respond to a severe influenza pandemic or to any similarly global, sustained and threatening public health emergency. Beyond implementation of core public health capacities called for in the IHR, global preparedness can be advanced through research, strengthened health-care delivery systems, economic development in low-and middle-income countries and improved health status.
Today, after presenting this report, Dr. Fineberg reiterated our lack of preparation, as reported by this Associated Press story:
Flu experts say world poorly prepared to deal with a global health emergency
By The Associated Press – 2 hours ago
GENEVA — The world is not ready to deal with a lengthy public health emergency, a panel of international experts said Wednesday, basing its conclusions on the swine flu outbreak.
The panel's report on the World Health Organization's handling of the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 flu concludes that the world is "ill-prepared to respond to a severe influenza pandemic or to any similarly global, sustained and threatening public health emergency."
As Dr. Fineberg says, we got lucky with the last pandemic.
The fact that the world came through it relatively unscathed had more to do with the virulence (or lack, thereof) of the virus, than it did with our ability to mitigate it.
While some believe it is better to be lucky than good, the truth is you can’t count on your luck holding forever.
Good enough reason to take getting ready for the next pandemic seriously, while we have the luxury of time to prepare.