Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Obama and Lugar on bird flu

He's not the first politician to make a statement on bird flu, but Barak Obama's New York Times Op Ed (co-authored with Republican Senator Richard Lugar) is welcome and unusually high profile (h.t., demfromct). After rehearsing the familiar reasons to be concerned, Obama and Lugar endorse Congress's recent action to allot $25 million for international prevention efforts and alert us that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation to direct President Bush to form a senior-level task force to coordinate US foreign policy on the threat of an avian influenza pandemic. They urge him to take immediate action on it, even before the bill is passed.

But these steps are modest, as they are the first to say. Much more needs to be done and they make some concrrete and welcome suggestions:
International health experts believe that Southeast Asia will be an epicenter of influenza for decades. We recommend that this administration work with Congress, public health officials, the pharmaceutical industry, foreign governments and international organizations to create a permanent framework for curtailing the spread of future infectious diseases.

Among the parts of that framework could be these:

Increasing international disease surveillance, response capacity and public education and coordination, especially in Southeast Asia.

Stockpiling enough antiviral doses to cover high-risk populations and essential workers.

Ensuring that, here at home, Health and Human Services and state governments put in place plans that address issues of surveillance, medical care, drug and vaccine distribution, communication, protection of the work force and maintenance of core public functions in case of a pandemic.

Accelerating research into avian flu vaccines and antiviral drugs.

Establishing incentives to encourage nations to report flu outbreaks quickly and full
Good start. Now why didn't the Administration think of this? (Maybe they did and are keeping it secret so terrorists won't find out.)