World warned over killer flu pandemic

The world is failing to guard against the inevitable spread of a devastating flu pandemic which could kill 50 million people and wreak massive disruption around the globe, the Government has warned.

In evidence to a House of Lords committee, ministers said that early warning systems for spotting emerging diseases were "poorly co-ordinated" and lacked "vision" and "clarity". They said that more needed to be done to improve detection and surveillance for potential pandemics and called for urgent improvement in rapid-response strategies.

The Government's evidence appeared in a highly critical report from the Lords Intergovernmental Organisations Committee, which attacked the World Health Organisation (WHO) as "dysfunctional" and criticised the international response to the threat of an outbreak of disease which could sweep across the globe.

The Government said: "While there has not been a pandemic since 1968, another one is inevitable." Ministers said it would could kill between two and 50 million people worldwide and that such an outbreak would leave up to 75,000 people dead in Britain and cause "massive" disruption.

Peers joined ministers calling for urgent action to build up early warning systems across the Third World that can identify and neutralise outbreaks of potentially deadly new strains of disease before they are swept across the globe by modern trade and travel. Peers also called for new action to monitor animal diseases, warning of the potentially disastrous effects of conditions such as the H5N1 bird flu virus jumping to humans and demanded that Britain step up funding for the WHO to tackle the threat.

With international tourist journeys now reaching 800 million a year, giving unprecedented potential for epidemics to spread across borders, and many cities rapidly growing in developing countries, which would provide "fertile ground" to spread disease, peers on the committee warned that conditions such as Sars, avian influenza and ebola "have the potential to cause rapid and devastating sickness and death across much of the world if they are not detected and checked in time".

Their report said: "We have been warned that an influenza pandemic is overdue and that when – rather than if – it comes the effects could be devastating, particularly if the strain of the virus should be of the H5N1 variety that has been seen in south-east Asia in recent years.

"While much progress has been made in the past 10 years in improving global surveillance and response systems, much remains to be done if we are to detect new strains of the virus and counter them before they have had the chance to spread."

The report called for a fundamental overhaul of the WHO's regional offices around the world. "Given the threats to global health that we face from newly emerging infectious diseases, a dysfunctional organisational structure within the world's principal policy-making, standard-setting and surveillance body simply cannot be afforded."

A government briefing given to the committee warned: "Not all countries have the resources or capacities to put in place a seasonal influenza vaccination policy and, in the event of an influenza pandemic, it is also recognised that current stock will not meet world-wide demand.

"There needs to be an improvement to rapid response strategies in poorer, more vulnerable, countries."

Ministers warned that there was "no agreed vision or clarity over roles" among the international bodies working in the field.

Lord Soley, the committee's chairman, welcomed efforts to guard against a flu pandemic but warned: "They are not good enough. We have a pandemic twice every century. If something developed in a country with a developed healthcare system you would stop it and stop it before it went round the world. You cannot have that confidence about the developing world," it warned.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, likened the threat from a pandemic to the threat of international terrorism. He said: "Globally there has been massive attention to the threat from terrorism and rightly so. But the potential for loss of life from a pandemic is massive, enormous and yet we stare a disaster in the face and we see a chaotic, uncoordinated and incoherent international response to it.

"Disease can spread like wildfire. We have to dramatically step up the response."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health acknowledged that "more clearly needs to be done improve detection, surveillance and general response capacity building". She said Britain was working to improve the international response to bird flu and a potential pandemic and was working to improve international co-ordination on the issue.

She added: "We agree that there is considerable scope to improve the effectiveness and coherence of intergovernmental organisations working in this area."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Account Manager (Junior)

    Negotiable: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Account Manager (Junior) Account ...

    Solar Business Development Manager – M&A

    £50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Test Analyst

    £20000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Tes...

    Account Manager - (Product & Account Management, Marketing)

    £26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Account Manager - (Produc...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried