BBC Panorama Flu Pandemic - What is the government doing ?

Watching the brilliant but ultimately really terrifying BBC drama documentary "Flu Pandemic" last night on Panorama has left my mind today full of questions, but has also left me wondering why the government in this country and others around the world are so ill prepared.

The program used experts and a fictionalised incident of blird flu mutating and spreading in a pandemic fashion, as it surely will at some point in the future, to highlight issues that people inthe UK need to know about. The most worrying aspect for me were :

1) It will take 4-6 months at best for the first vaccine doses to become available if a flu pandemic occurs.
2) Worldwide, we can only produce enough vaccine in any calender year for 9% of the world population. It would therefore take 11 years to vaccinate the whole world.
3) We can expect a break down in law and order as people take the law in to their own hands in oder to get tamiflu, the drug the government are stockpiling for 25% of the population but there is no guarantee it will have any affect at all !
4) There will be food shortages as people don't go to work, shops close, delivery drivers stop driving and the country comes to a halt.
5) Decisions will have to be made about who gets the vaccine or not. Projections show that children and the elderly will be last on the list, not the first.
6) We can expect a death rate of between 1% and 10% of the population. That will, as one US expert on the program put it, mean vans driving around collecting dead people from doorsteps because our hospitals will be full.

Why, given all the facts, are the government doing nothing and why are we not being informed. One colleague of mine today felt it was over dramatised because he said "I thought all this bird flu thing had died off". The fact is that people still don't know that it is not bird flu we should be scared of, it is a new strain of human flu that will eventually mutate with bird flu that we should be scared of.

Oh, and finally, if you survive this flu, you face the very real chance of being struck down by a sort of sleeping palsy which affected millions of people in the 1920's after the last "Spanish" flu pandemic in 1919/1920, which killed millions of people.

To my mind, the government have their head in the sand. When it hits us, which it will (flu pandemics have happened in the past and do so about once a century), the only way we will guarantee maximum survival of the population is to make sure people are prepared. yes, the facts are scary, really scary, but everyone should watch this program and be prepared for the worst.

Watch the program HERE on the web via the BBC website.


Continuity Forum said...

Its not that the Government is inactive it is the system that generates this impression.

Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, all Local Authorities are required to plan. The ownership of these plans are at Local and Regioanl level as well as National level.

We have been working with many public sector groups helping to develop awareness and planning across the country,but the uptake is very patchy. The reasons for this are usually pretty straightforward:
- Lack of time/money!
- Lack of Executive Support!
- Lack of skills
and lastly, but most worringly,
- a disbielf of the real level of the threat ... what we term heads in the sand.

It is vital that people at all levels in the community ask Authorities, Employers, Schools and the suchlike about their Continuity Plannning. This simple action will add pressure and create the awareness of not just H5N1 Pandemic issues,but also the raft of other things that may be far more mundane but still hit our communities hard.

The Continuity Forum exists to help and you can contact us through the website at www.continuityforum.org

Joe Otten said...

Sounds like the usual sensationalist hype to me. Remember SARS? Remember Ebola?

Pandemics are less frequent than they used to be despite more travel and higher population densities. This should tell us something.

Mutation of existing pathogens is always a risk, always has been, and will happen from time to time.

If there is an argument that we should be spending a lot more on preparation for a particular contingency, then where are the numbers?

Frankly, there are 1001 threats that could form the basis of this sort of analysis. Maybe some of them deserve more careful sober assessment. But nothing yet to suggest that bird flu is one of them.

Norfolk Blogger said...

Joe, your obviously did not watch the program on TV. Watch it via the link at the bottom of the article.

The point being made over and over was that
1) It will happen.
2) Ignoring it and not planning properly for it will make it worse.
3) When it does come, it will kill millions, with even the government's own projections saying 250,000 inthe UK alone. If it is sensationalist, why are the government ordering 15 million doses of tamiflu ?