Donald Donahue, DHEd, Director of the Center for Health Policy and Preparedness comments this week on more allegations that the H1N1 pandemic was exaggerated.
SUMMARY: The Council of Europe's Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs questioned World Health Organization officials this week about allegations from some European politicians that they exaggerated the H1N1 pandemic threat to benefit drug companies. Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO special advisor on pandemic influenza, defended vaccine stockpiling as a prudent public health response, saying the novel influenza virus quickly sweeping the globe required unprecedented cooperation from a broad range of groups, including pharmaceutical companies. He also pointed out that the 1918 pandemic started with mild waves of illnesses before turning deadly, and to the CDC report that the number of children who die from the new virus is three times higher than for seasonal flu.
It is significant to note that three former Surgeons General of the United State testified before Congress in July 2007 about the adverse impact of the “politicalization” of public health. There is no disputing the tremendous positive impact that medicine and public health have had over the past century. Ancient scourges like plague, polio, and smallpox are now historical footnotes, absent an act of bioterrorism. Drs. Koop, Satcher, and Carmona provided expert witness to how political agendas can detract from or undermine proven methods. At the same time, we are witnessing a disturbing increase in conspiracy theories and half-truths circulated via unprecedented rapid communications channels such as the Internet. Although the WHO reports that measles vaccination resulted in a 78% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2008 worldwide, the isolated adverse reaction to the vaccine is what garners headlines.
It is this same dynamic, a political ax to grind, or perhaps a belief that belies the ample scientific evidence to the contrary that prompts the unfortunate review by a political body of what is sound scientific advice based on a body of evidence. The alleged conspiracy to benefit vaccine companies would require an unprecedented degree of coordination and collaboration across nations, social strata, health agencies, and independent experts. Having to defend against this is a phenomenal waste of time and resources. Moreover, subscribing to such beliefs opens the door to assuming the role of victim.
This points to an individual need to assess one’s own “culture of preparedness.” While you may feel -prepared, are you really ready for the unexpected? Who anticipated a major earthquake in Haiti? Do you, family members, and employees know what to do when disaster strikes? Have you practiced plans for survival and recovery, or does the plan gather dust on a bookshelf – assuming you even have a plan? When a crisis occurs, some will become victims while others will survive. Which side do you choose?
--Don Donahue, Director, Firestorm Healthcare Response Team