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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Changes To Better Respond To Flu Pandemic Urged

The American Public Health Association (APHA) recommends key changes to the U.S. strategy for preparing and responding to a flu pandemic to ensure the health and safety of all individuals, the association for public health professionals founded in 1872 says.

APHA released a blueprint for improving U.S. pandemic preparedness, amid persistent concerns about a potential influenza pandemic.

Among its top concerns is the need for additional resources for an already overburdened public health workforce that may lack the resources to fully respond to a flu outbreak, APHA says. Other needs include clear federal guidance on school closures, quarantine and occupational health in the event of a pandemic.

It is not just the public health sector that should be prepared for a pandemic, says Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, APHA's executive director.

"The general public must be equipped with the proper resources to prepare themselves in the event of a flu pandemic," Benjamin says. "The better we prepare now, the better our chances will be for protecting the health of Americans during an emergency."

APHA's proposals include:
  • Increasing funding for states, localities, hospitals and public health labs to expand their capacity to respond to pandemic flu;
  • Increasing investment in the public health work force, so there are enough employees necessary to serve on the frontlines in preparing for and responding to a pandemic and annual seasonal epidemics;
  • Creating emergency Medicaid coverage to ensure that uninsured Americans will receive appropriate countermeasures and care in the event ofpandemic flu;
  • Creating guidelines for the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions, including handwashing, "snow days," isolation and quarantine;
  • Creating new methods to purchase, distribute and track vaccines and antivirals;
  • Incorporating occupational and mental health issues, such as potential distress and sick leave from work, in pandemic planning and response efforts; and
  • Creating and implementing laws and policies that grant federal, state and local health officers the authority to make decisions about quarantine and isolation orders.
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