Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Australia's best laid plans

Australia had a great pandemic flu plan. On paper. Now paper is confronting reality and reality is winning.

Like a number of other places, it seemed only common sense that the priority for Tamiflu would be essential workers. Back in October the Australian government said it had enough Tamiflu for 1,000,000:
The Federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has been very frank about the inadequacy of Australian stockpiles:

"Certainly, we don’t have anything like enough antivirals to protect the entire population. At present, we have enough antivirals to protect one million essential service workers for about six weeks."

He has also been very candid about supply constraints being a clear reason for the limited stockpiles:

"[A]t the moment there are no additional antivirals anywhere in the world . . . If there were more antivirals to be had, by all means [we would expand stockpiles]. But on the best evidence we have, there aren’t."

Providing such protection will be essential in order to ensure that workers such as police, doctors, nurses, water and electricity staff and airport employees turn up for work and maintain essential infrastructure. When supplies run out after 6 weeks or so, Australia will then be competing to obtain preferential treatment for a scarce resource from Roche. (Medical Journal of Australia)
It turns out even this bit of pessimism was too optimistic. Australia has reversed direction and now will give Tamiflu only to the sick and those directly exposed to the sick:
"We came to the conclusion in consultation with the states that the attempt to keep prophylaxis going for the up to 1 million people who would normally be deemed essential was simply not going to work, there would never be enough anti-virals to do so," he said. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Either a lot of Tamiflu disappeared since October, or the amount of Tamiflu was overestimated, or . . . they were just blowing smoke?

Score: Reality 1, Paper Plan 0.