Friday, April 14, 2006

Not the plan but the planning

Nick Zamiska has an interesting story in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about a forthcoming medical article (to appear in The Lancet) surveying the state of bird flu planning across the European Union.
Of 21 national plans examined, seven don't mention the role of veterinary services, many don't include a strategy for containing an original outbreak and fewer than half address how to maintain essential services in the event of a pandemic, according to the study, by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.


"It doesn't look too good for some of the countries," says Gudjon Magnusson, a director at the WHO's regional office in Copenhagen, who was in Vienna and reviewed the report. (WSJ)
WSJ was working off a preliminary draft from February which has already caused consternation in the EU. Criticisms that the paper is out of date (survey ended in November 2005) or might be tainted by its source of funding (Roche, the pharma giant that makes Tamiflu) may have some validity, but the simple truth is that countries claiming to be ready for a bird flu pandemic because they have a plan are either lying or seriously deluded. No matter how good the written plan -- which is what was being evaluated -- it will go out the window in the first week after a pandemic strikes an area. Does this mean planning is worthless?

On the contrary. The wisest words on the subject were spoken by the planner of the largest infantry invasion in history, General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of D-Day in WW II: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

Planning can help avoid mistakes. Planning can help visualize the event. Planning can bring together people who will need to know each other during a pandemic. The more people involved the better. A strong argument for public participation and planning at the local level.

It's not the plan, it's the planning.