Sunday, May 14, 2006

Trust him, he's an expert

Vancouver's medical health officer, with the Dickensian name of Dr. John Blatherwick, is on a tear. Too much money and resources are being devoted to pandemic planning even though the real threat is low.
Speaking at a disaster forum in Banff, Alta., Dr. John Blatherwick said the $400 million set aside in last week's federal budget for pandemic planning would be better spent on more immediate health issues like cancer.

Blatherwick noted that there's been no continual pattern of bird flu jumping from animals to humans. And he said there has never been a case of avian flu being transmitted from human to human. (CBC)
I'm glad to hear that Vancouver's public health infrastructure is just fine, although I'm not sure exactly what Dr. Blatherwick wants to do about cancer as a public health problem. Preventing exposures to occupational and environmental carcinogens would certainly be cost effective, but somehow I don't think that's what he has in mind. But I'll let him clarify that.

The statement that there is no continual pattern of bird flu jumping from animals to humans, though, does need a wee bit of a correction. There most certainly is a continual pattern -- continual, as in the usual meaning of the word: continuing to happen with regularity. The jump isn't frequent given the number of bird - human encounters and we don't know what determines it, but one thing you can say with certainty is that it has been continual since the resurgence of the H5N1 epizootic in 2003. Of course the second statement that there never has been a human to human case is just plain false and shows the good Dr. Blatherwick doesn't read the medical literature.

The Blatherwick prescription?
Garry Mauch, the director of disaster services for Medicine Hat, Alta., thinks Blatherwick makes sense. He said he likes the idea of letting experts do the groundwork.

"If it falls on the shoulders of local planners, well, of course, then you're going to react to some information that may not be factual. . . . "
Leave it to the experts. Note that a pre-requisite is that they acquire some expertise.