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December 6, 2005

HHS Pandemic Preparedness Tour

Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt announced a plan today for a 50-state summit tour on pandemic flu preparedness. He and his fellow federal agency representatives will be traveling to every state and commonwealth to meet with local officials, starting with our own Star of the North. Leavitt will be here next Wednesday, December 14, to jointly chair the preparedness meeting with Governor Tim Pawlenty.

In a news report about the plan, there were some mixed feelings from health officials. States vary widely in their public health resources, and many see this state-by-state approach as bringing focused attention from the federal government to many states that need more help. Other health officials are worried that we've gotten into a rut of one narrowly-focused preparedness plan after another: anthrax, small pox, SARS, and now pandemic flu. And some see the risk of "fatigue" amongst the professionals and the public in response to another health threat.

I'd like to hope that these meetings will forgo hierarchical barriers that exist in public health and allow frank exchange of ideas. This approach will allow Sec. Leavitt to personally take the pulse, so to speak, of each state so that the feds will have direct knowledge -- a direct connection -- to key personnel, key issues, and key strengths across the nation. I can imagine many ways in which this 'face time' may reap true benefits in the coming months, even if a human influenza pandemic doesn't materialize. Will these meetings be a thoughtful exploration or a more heavy-handed approach? I'll keep you posted.

Some random thoughts on the matter:

· I think the most likely danger related to H5N1 to reach our shores isn't a human epidemic but an animal one. Not to dismiss the former, but the later threat is the one I'm hoping will get the attention it deserves. After all, a readily transmissible "highly pathogenic" H5N1 in birds is what we have. And we all know how highly mobile birds are. What will be the economic cost of H5N1 in our chicken and turkey flocks? What about the ecological cost to wild birds? I read a poignant Op-Ed piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago titled Cull of the Wild that got me thinking about this.

· This is the first time I've seen the government create a web site dedicated to a single health threat -- PandemicFlu.gov. Just a little exploration on the site is enough to grasp the immensity of the coordination effort that is being attempted here. You can see the scope of the national and international activities.

· Also on the web site is information from today's "Convening of the States" planning meeting that spearheaded the 50-state summit announcement. I was intrigued by a link titled Pandemic Planning Assumptions. What I found brought joy to this epidemiologist's heart. An explicit list of assumptions! Wow, just what I've always wanted! (I should explain that part of my work focuses on bringing more transparency to public health science and decision making.) These particular assumptions define the parameters of pandemic flu for health preparedness planners, so they have tangible characteristics to mold their plans around. Impressive!

Posted by rigd0003 at December 6, 2005 4:32 PM | Public Health