Why was there 18-day delay in swine flu alert?

April 30th, 2009 - 5:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 30 (IANS) It was full 18 days after the Mexican authorities started probing unusual cases of pneumonia that the world came to know about the swine flu outbreak - despite a global reporting system put in place nine years ago.
“Despite huge efforts in the past six years to make the reporting of disease outbreaks fast and automatic, there were significant delays in bringing Mexico’s swine flu outbreak to the full attention of international authorities,” the Washington Post noted Thursday.

News of the outbreak of severe respiratory illness in Mexico came out April 24 — 18 days after public health authorities there started looking into unusual cases of pneumonia in their country, eight days after Mexican authorities notified the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the growing outbreak and four days after the events came to the full attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, US, the report said.

The delay was despite the international health regulations of 2005 that require nations to report to the WHO within 24 hours any disease outbreak that is serious, unusual, at risk of spreading internationally or potentially disruptive of trade.

By the time international authorities became fully aware of the outbreak, there were about 800 cases and at least 50 deaths, and the virus was crossing international borders.

“After all this work on flu surveillance and setting up a reporting system and then this — perhaps this isn’t the best example of how it’s supposed to work,” a highly placed health official in the Obama administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying.

The swine flu epidemic is the first test of the revised International Health Regulations, which were passed by the WHO’s 193 member countries in 2005 and took effect June 15, 2007. They were framed in the aftermath of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003.

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