Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bird flu response: you gotta believe

Maybe they blew it for the hurricane, but there has been plenty of warning about bird flu. So we can trust them on this one. And of course I do.

The source is unimpeachable. Dr. Chuck Lambert, Deputy Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), says the US government has a broad-based, integrated program to respond to the spread of H5N1 in Asia. That's a relief, because it didn't seem like they were doing much, but when the Secretary for Marketing tells us, well . . . .

In April, the State Department announced that the United States was offering bilateral technical and epidemiological assistance to individual countries through USDA, HHS, and USAID.
In 2004, HHS provided over $5.5 million in technical assistance and grants for pandemic preparedness to countries in the Asia-Pacific region and directly to WHO. Experts from CDC provided emergency support and USAID sent stockpiles of personal protective equipment to the region for use in the event of a rapidly spreading outbreak.

According to Lambert, USDA's initial rapid response activities in the animal health area include technical assistance, training, and long-term capacity building for five targeted countries: Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and China.

Congress appropriated $25 million in May as part of a supplemental bill for tsunami relief. The appropriation is intended to address short-term needs over the next 14 months for controlling bird flu and increasing pandemic preparedness in Asia. (Washington File, website of the US State Department).
Let's see. $5.5 million. Almost the cost of a house in many affluent suburbs. But that was 2004. How about 2005? Five times as much: $25 million. Almost 3 hours and 40 minutes of a day's expenditure in the Iraq mistake.

Seems like maybe the US government's broad-based integrated response could be just teeny bit broader still. But who am I to argue with USDA's Secretary of Marketing?