Pandemic challenges for Asia-Pacific region

May 03, 2006

The Asia-Pacific region faces a number of challenges in preparing for an influenza pandemic, yet gaps and inconsistencies in plans across the continent could hinder an effective response to a pandemic, according to a new report1 presented today at the Lancet Asia Medical Forum 2006, Singapore.

Over 80% of human deaths from avian influenza (H5N1) recorded to date have occurred in South East Asia, 2 which suggests that countries in the region could be the epicentre of the next human influenza pandemic.

The report reveals two distinct groupings in Asia-Pacific. Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand were found to have comprehensive operational guidance manuals that facilitate national responses to pandemic influenza. Plans prepared by China, Thailand and Vietnam were less operational but strategically plan for investment to develop future capacity. The regional as a whole drew from its previous experience of SARS. This report follows a previous analysis of European pandemic plans, 3 a summary of which was published in the Lancet.4

Dr Richard Coker, the report's lead author, said: 'The strategic approach towards pandemic preparedness taken by Australia, Hong Kong, and New Zealand is similar to the best of the European plans - the remaining Asia-Pacific countries surveyed are likely to be less prepared for an imminent pandemic and might consider developing operational plans that recognise current capacity limitations'.

The LSHTM researchers examined the preparedness plans of five countries in the Asia Pacific region - China (and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong), Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. Pandemic plans for Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia were not available.

The WHO's Global Influenza Preparedness Plan5 provides guidelines for governments on preparing for and managing an influenza pandemic, and is the benchmark against which all national preparedness planning should be implemented. The completeness and quality of these national preparedness plans were assessed based on the World Health Organization's (WHO) preparedness checklist,6 addressing levels of: Potential gaps and weaknesses were identified in the Asia Pacific Region. For example some countries organise their responses by pandemic phases differently from the WHO pandemic phases which could cause confusion during the management of a regional or global crisis. A further gap is that the maintenance of essential services is not addressed fully in several plans.

Dr Richard Coker said: 'Many of the gaps common in this region, such as identifying priority groups for antivirals and vaccines, planning for essential services and understanding how healthcare systems might respond during a pandemic are also common to the European region. Opportunities exist for co-operative relations between countries to be developed and built upon in influenza preparedness'.

The LSHTM researchers acknowledge that only those plans available for analysis at the time of research (February 2006) were included. The analysis does not include plans under review, amendment or pending finalisation.
-end-
Notes to Editors:
Copies of the LSHTM Asia-Pacific report are available from the LSHTM Press Office.
Contacts
For further information, please contact the LSHTM Press Office
Phone: +44 (0) 207 927 2073.

Availability for interview
Dr Coker will be available for interview onsite at the Asia Medical Forum immediately following the official press briefings, to take place at 18.00 (Singapore Standard Time) on Wednesday 3 May and 13.00 (Singapore Standard Time) on Thursday 4 May. Funding
This research was undertaken through an unrestricted educational grant from F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.

References:
[1] Coker R. Mounier-Jack S. Pandemic Influenza Preparedness in the Asia Pacific Region: An analysis of selected national plans. Presented at the Lancet Asia Medical Forum, Singapore, on May 2 2006
[2] Cumulative Number of Confirmed Human Cases of Avian Influenza A/(H5N1) Reported to WHO http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/country/cases_table_2006_04_21/en/index.html
[3] Coker R. Mounier-Jack S. How prepared is Europe for Pandemic Influenza? An analysis of national plans. Lancet 2006; 1405-1411
[4] WHO Global Influenza Preparedness Plan - the role of WHO and recommendations for national measures before and during pandemics 2005
[5] WHO. Checklist for influenza epidemic preparedness 2005
vi [6] WHO influenza pandemic preparedness checklist

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

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