Communication and the right supplies—both are key to halting an outbreak.
Keeping avian influenza at bay
When avian influenza—“bird flu”—leapt from farm fowl to farmers, the world sat up and took notice. It’s been a long time since the 1918 Spanish flu swept around the world, killing between 40 and 50 million people. The World Health Organization estimates that a bird flu pandemic could leave another 50 million dead and burn through more than $800 billion (World Bank).
The response from around the world has been quick and dramatic. Public health leaders are putting systems in place to detect and treat bird flu cases and to stop the spread of disease—with the urgent understanding that our pandemic preparedness is only as strong as the weakest link. PATH is working in Georgia and Ukraine, both having reported cases of infected fowl, to make sure their health systems are ready.
Bracing for bird flu in Georgia
Human cases of bird flu have not been registered in Georgia (as of October 2006), but people died from it in two neighboring countries, Turkey and Azerbaijan. These incidents put government health officials on high alert.
PATH has been working with the Georgian nongovernmental organization Curatio International Foundation to help the government design and implement an early warning surveillance system. The system will make sure that people who are at higher risk of bird flu are monitored, that those who develop potential signs of the infection are identified right away, and that the public health system’s containment strategies are triggered when necessary. With the help of our partners, all public health workers and more than 100 frontline physicians around the country have been trained in how to recognize and respond to warning signs. These health professionals will in turn train others, spreading information faster than we can alone.
Communication is the real hope for halting a disease outbreak—it’s the link between infected families, physicians with vital local knowledge, and systems that can respond on a country or global level. Our partners have developed talking points and communication guidelines for epidemiological situations ranging from localized human outbreaks to a nationwide disaster and trained 43 central and regional spokespersons and several media representatives in their use.
And yet all of this is fruitless without the basic tools to detect the infection and prevent its spread. We’re helping Georgia identify and procure laboratory equipment and supplies capable of detecting new virus strains—and personal protective equipment for bird handlers and health workers.
Controlling the spread in Ukraine
Ukraine’s geographic location places it at extreme risk for pandemic avian influenza. The country reported its first case of bird flu in domestic fowl in December 2005. Since then, the virus has continued to spread, moving rapidly through Crimea, a gateway at the southern tip of Ukraine.
As in Georgia, PATH is working with the government to design strategies for surveillance and detection and communication plans for the nation and for the regions where the risk is greatest, weaving local information into a national picture of the spread of the disease. We’re also helping procure necessary equipment—stocking and distributing protective gear—and developing a strategy for vaccinating people at greatest risk of seasonal influenza.
Building on a decade of experience
To carry out these activities, we’re building on our expertise in international procurement and on our regional experience in strengthening health information systems for communicable diseases, as well as for tuberculosis control. Learn more about how we’re helping health systems in the Newly Independent States adapt after the political, social, and economic upheaval of independence.