World must wake up to face pandemic threat: expert
Thursday, 31 January 2008

Agency

Much of the world, including governments, business organisations and the news media, is 'asleep at the switch' about one of the biggest threats to human existence ever known, a leading American specialist on infectious diseases said this week.

Dr Michael T Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy of the University of Minnesota said the world fails to fully understand the implications of such threats, According to a message received in Dhaka on Tuesday.

'Planning is poor,' Osterholm said adding, 'People just assume business will run as normal — which it won't! And no one, including the media, is paying attention.' He spoke to a media conference sponsored by the East-West Centre of Honolulu and co-hosted by the National Press Council of Thailand.

While the media has done a lot of short-term reporting on the pandemic flu threat, it has largely failed to understand the larger, and quite terrifying, consequences of rapidly spreading disease, Osterholm said. For instance, he said, an avian flu pandemic might directly claim a relatively limited number of lives, but the fallout from a pandemic could well be catastrophic.

'Just because these are small numbers. Anyone who shrugs off the seriousness of this is a fool of history,' Osterholm said.

The fallout from a flu pandemic, he said, could include massive energy shortages around the world, a surge in other deadly infectious diseases, uncounted associated deaths due to shortage of medical supplies and treatment, and more.

The relatively fragile world health system could collapse, he said. 'Energy, food, water, transportation, communications, equipment parts, security — all will be in short supply,' he said. Even the systems to handle the remains of victims will be at the risk of breaking down.

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