Swine flu could be a disaster for weak public health systems in
1 May 2009
A potential spread of swine flu to developing countries without
adequate means to track the outbreak or to treat those infected could
prove disastrous, says humanitarian agency World Vision.
A lack of access to basic, primary health care means communities in
poor countries are more likely to suffer from such new viruses than
those in developed nations, World Vision's emergency health specialists
have warned as the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert
to a phase 5 level.
Currently, confirmed and suspected swine flu cases are in countries
with relatively mature public health systems. World Vision is concerned
that the virus might spread to developing countries without adequate
health provision, such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
"The spread of the virus beyond Mexico is demonstrating that
community-level health threats are actually global matters that affect
us all," said Dr. Mesfin Teklu, emergency health director for World
Vision International. "Still, it is where health systems and structures
are inadequate that the disease is most likely to spread unchecked and
take its greatest toll on lives."
"This swine flu, like avian influenza outbreaks before it, highlights
a critical weakness in the way the world addresses health threats," said
Teklu, speaking from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, while participating in a
regional pandemic preparedness meeting with other global public health
leaders. "It underscores the need to invest in basic health care in
developing nations, a crucial step to improving overall health while
building capacity for a rapid and robust response when crises such as
While effective high-level mechanisms exist to track the disease
globally, vulnerable countries' ability to deal with a pandemic within
their borders vary enormously — putting many at risk. Adequate health
systems are essential to educate communities about simple, effective
precautions and interventions that could save many lives, and to find,
monitor and control rising health threats among their own populations.
World Vision's emergency specialists in Latin America foresee a
raised threat of the virus spreading to less-developed countries with
close tourism and trade relationships with Mexico. For the many
impoverished households who rely on these sectors for their livelihoods,
a wider outbreak would also deepen economic duress.
"We have great concern for our cities in Latin America, and
particularly the shantytowns, that if this spreads, a million or more
people could be affected across underdeveloped health systems that
aren't equipped to care for them or contain the outbreak," said Aldo
Pontecorvo, World Vision's regional emergency response director in
World Vision, a Christian humanitarian agency working in 100
countries, is poised to scale up its response if needed to the current
outbreak in Mexico City, where it currently is counselling at-risk youth
living on the streets about health precautions and providing them
shelter and care.
Through established partnerships with the WHO and networks with other
agencies, World Vision is planning for the possibility of further global
spread. The agency is also educating its own staff worldwide on
precautions, using comprehensive guidelines World Vision developed in
recent years for international pandemic preparedness.
For more information on World Vision see
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