JIS News

A two-day workshop and conference on pandemic influenza, is being staged from January 21 to 22 at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, to discuss and plan prevention strategies, and economic recovery in the event of an influenza crisis.
It will also focus on the Caribbean Community sustaining power, sewer, food, water and medical supplies, and other critical infrastructure.
The workshop will engage participants from all CARICOM countries and the United States (U.S.) that would be involved in the management of such a crisis across the region.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the workshop at the University of the West Indies (UWI), yesterday (Jan. 20), Pro-Vice Chancellor and Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor Ronald Young, who was the keynote speaker, urged stakeholders to be prepared and collaborate in mitigating measures to combat the ever present threat.
“It is only through preparedness that we will be able to prevent potential hazards that materialise in fact, from becoming heartrending disasters. And make no mistake – the question is not whether the world will see a pandemic outbreak of influenza. The question is merely when,” he said.
He noted that pandemic influenza is a real and present danger because of two convergent realities. These include, he said, the nature of one of the viruses; and the reduction of the world into a tightly knit global village.
Professor Young pointed out that the influenza virus differs from the virus which causes the common cold. “It causes much more severe symptoms, and can be deadly to the weak and aged. It is much more changeable, because its genetic recombination and ongoing mutations generated during the replication process in infected cells, have the ability to create highly virulent types and subtypes,” he added.
In many societies, he noted, humans come into intimate contact with viruses originating from animal populations. For example in the case of the well known Avian Influenza Virus, providing the influenza viruses with a huge source of added variation from this so-called zoonotic transfer of novel but similar viral material between man and animals.
This, he said, poses a constant threat as individuals from even the most remote societies can easily reach within a day or two just about any other point on the globe where the virus can exploit the opportunities presented by humans.
Making reference to the AIDS pandemic, he noted that, “is not simply a health problem; it is also a national and global, civic and economic issue that demands coordinated and concerted responses from all sectors of society at a time when their capacity to respond will be severely impaired through incapacitation of their human resources.”
He added that solutions that might be appropriate for one set of conditions may be inappropriate for another. “So that the workshop cannot and must not be a forum in which some speak and others listen. We must truly dialogue and try to adapt our thinking to suit the particular local circumstances while we understand the need to learn from each other’s experiences,” he emphasised.
“The response to this threat must know no boundaries. it will require the unification of all governmental and non-governmental, public and private sectors for the ultimate successful protection of our nation, region and the world,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI, Mona, Professor Archibald McDonald, in his remarks noted that an influenza pandemic would require a response from a wide range of disciplines such as physicians, public health workers, social scientists, security personnel, politicians and legislators, microbiologists, management experts, among others.
“The conference is an opportunity to explore the possibilities and to increase our knowledge of and to review the best way to co-ordinate effective response to such a catastrophe,” he said.
Captain Vernon Maas of the US Northern Command, reminded that diseases know no borders and as such with the interconnectivity of travel, economics and rapid communication, “it is imperative that we plan together to mitigate the effects of pandemic influenza and prepare to recover from such an event.”
“We must take the opportunity to plan and co-ordinate efforts across nations and within each nation…We also must put our own houses in order both at a national level and at a personal level so that we can assist others.to this end, as a community of nations, we will refine what plans and efforts we have already begun.
The workshop is a collaboration among the UWI; the U.S. army; and CARICOM countries. The forum will include: sessions to discuss prevention measures during an influenza pandemic; impacts on critical infrastructure and maintaining fuel and food resources to ensure trade continues, as well as sustainable health care facilities and economic recovery plans following a pandemic.
The US Northern Command is a unified Combatant Command of the U.S. military which was created in 2002 following the September 2001 attacks on the U.S. Its mission is to protect the United States homeland and support local, state, and federal authorities.

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