Malaysia should emulate Canada and develop a bird flu pandemic preparedness plan for the worst-case scenario in view of WHO warning that millions of people could die if the deadly H5N1 virus mutates into a form that could be passed among humans
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Friday): Malaysia should emulate Canada and develop a bird flu pandemic preparedness plan for the worst-case scenario in view of World Health Organisation (WHO) warning that millions of people could die if the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu virus mutates into a form that could be passed among humans.
Hong Kong health authorities have warned that if the bird flu can be passed from person to person, 300,000 people could die in Hong Kong alone as virologists have said that it has a mortality rate in humans of over 75 per cent.
In Canada, public health officials fear that if the bird flu becomes pandemic, it could kill as many as 58,000 people in Canada alone, which has prompted it to develop a pandemic preparedness plan to guide the actions of government and health officials, spelling out priority lists for immunization, plans for minimizing exposure and even “recovery plans” for health-care facilities after a pandemic.
The WHO has described the spread of the bird flu as “historically unprecedented”, sweeping through 10 Asian countries leading so far to the deaths or culling of more than 20 million poultry, and a toll of 10 human lives in Vietnam and Thailand.
Experts worry that the virus is moving so fast that it could mutate by merging with a conventional human flu virus to allow humans to pass it on to each other – which will make the bird flu a bigger health crisis than SARS which had killed 800 people and sickened 8,000 with infections in 32 countries last year.
Thailand, Asia and the world are paying a heavy price in human, social and economic costs because of the irresponsibility and criminal culpability of the Thai government of Thaksin Shinawatra to “cover up” the bird flu epidemic until a week ago, despite reports from poor rural farmers that their poultry had been dying in the thousands since late last year.
All governments must learn the lessons of the SARS outbreak that transparency and disclosure of information cannot be compromised in order to gain public confidence to prevent a global health catastrophe of bird flu pandemic claiming millions of human lives and causing irreparable economic and social costs.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman