A U.N. official says an influenza pandemic could have worldwide social, economic and political impacts, but the world is woefully unprepared for such an occurrence. The official estimate is 38 percent.
That 38% estimate is based on a joint United Nations-World Bank analysis released in a report known as the Fourth Global Progress Report on Responses to Avian Influenza and State of Pandemic Readiness.
148 countries provided data for the report, which compares current readiness with what actually happened in 2006 and 2007. This showed there were fewer outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu and fewer infected countries than in the same period back in 2006 and 2007.
But rather than being more prepared, only slightly more than half of the reporting countries even tested their pandemic plans in the past year. Also, only one third of those 148 countries had revisited their plans and incorporated lessons learned into them.
Speaking about readiness for a future pandemic, Dr. David Nabarro, U.N system coordinator for avian and pandemic influenza, said “Planning for pandemics is now near global, but we are worried that not enough plans have been put to the test through simulations.” Dr. Nabarro was speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Experts are concerned that not all levels of government are sufficiently involved in pandemic planning in some nations, and there are substandard animal and human health services in too many countries.
State Department special representative on avian and pandemic influenza, Ambassador John Lange says not even the United States is truly prepared for a severe pandemic.
According to available reports, worldwide, since 2003, hundreds of millions of domestic birds have died of H5N1 avian flu or were killed to prevent spreading the virus. 63 countries were involved in these bird deaths, and in 15 countries, 387 people were infected, an 245 of those subsequently died.
More than 50 countries appear to have eliminate H5N1, but the virus is endemic in Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam.
In 2008, there have been outbreaks among birds in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam on the Vietnamese-Chinese border and Egypt, particularly in the Nile Valley. There were also occasional outbreaks in Nigeria and Togo.
Researchers also reported a small number of human deaths. Human outbreaks in 2008 occurred in Bangladesh (one case, no deaths), China (three cases, three deaths), Egypt (seven cases, three deaths), Indonesia (20 cases, 17 deaths) and Vietnam (five cases, five deaths).
Although the virus has not mutated sufficiently to be easily transmissible among people, previous pandemics occurred as a result of mutations between eight to 15 years after first came human contact with the bird flu virus.
Dr. Nabarro says although the danger may appear to have passed, the virus is still a potential threat to humans, it may yet cause a future influenza pandemic.