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
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
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

    Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Smart Meter Engineer - Gas and Electric - Dual Fuel

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the installa...

    Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

    £30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum