April 25, 2009

Pandemic Influenza – Preparing Communities; Preparing You.

 

– by Greg McVicker.

(Published February 24th, 2009).

As a social worker and Pandemic Flu Coordinator for the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO), I have been asked to share information regarding my work with Pandemic Influenza training, education and awareness for our 36 First Nation communities in Southern Manitoba. However, before I provide a historical overview regarding pandemic flu, I should note there is no pandemic influenza outbreak anywhere in the world at this time.

Pandemics have occurred every ten to forty years since at least the sixteenth century. In the previous century, there were three pandemics. The last pandemic, “Hong Kong Influenza” occurred in 1968 and claimed the lives of one million people globally. Prior to that in 1957, the world faced the “Asian Influenza” pandemic, which claimed the lives of two million people. The worst pandemic to have occurred though took place in 1918 and was called the “Spanish Influenza”. It is estimated that anywhere between forty to one hundred million people died during that pandemic. The Spanish Flu was unique in characteristic, as healthy adults between the ages of 20 to 40 years of age were most susceptible. Most pandemics last a period of two years and come in waves. The Spanish Flu had three waves, with the second wave bringing the most devastation. However, the Asian Flu produced one wave that lasted three months, with no significant following waves.

As the last pandemic occurred forty years ago, scientists are predicting we are on the verge of the next global outbreak. In addition, one of our most gifted and knowledgeable resources, our Elders, have also spoken about the occurrence of this happening. Many Elders, including other constituents, can speak directly to previous outbreaks and the devastating effects each pandemic has placed upon their community or themselves. Pandemics create disruption to everyday life, cause serious illness amongst millions of people globally, but estimates are that 1% to 1.5% of Manitoba’s population may succumb to the virus itself. The death rate during the Spanish Flu was ten-fold to that of the other pandemics.

For a pandemic to occur, a new flu virus enters into the human population which is usually a combination of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) and seasonal influenza (the flu) and creates a strain that is spread easily from person to person, and from which the human population has no immunity. A vaccine that would normally protect the vast majority of the population will take at least six to eight months to develop, as scientists will first have to identify the strain of virus that is causing the outbreak.

In bringing forth this awareness, information and education, SCO is working feverishly to ensure every one of our First Nation communities is prepared for the next outbreak, and in minimizing the impacts a pandemic could bring. It is impossible to know in advance what the next pandemic will look like, how many waves will occur or what strain of virus will cause the outbreak. It is also impossible to predict exactly when the next pandemic will strike.

SCO is presenting 25 Table Top Exercises in many of our communities. Smaller communities have been paired with larger ones to maximize awareness. In addition, members from the Regional Health Authorities, Emergency Measures Organizations and First Nations Inuit Health have been invited to attend and participate in these exercises, as our goal is to increase awareness, collaboration and networking between our communities and service providers.

In order to best protect our communities however, a communal effort is required. Although we often look to our elected Chiefs and members of Council to develop such plans, it is crucial to note the whole community will have a role to play during the next pandemic. Elders, Chief and Council, Health Centre or Nursing Station Staff, School Principles, Teachers, Pastoral Care or Spiritual Advisors, Band Constables, Child and Family Service workers, Daycare staff, store owners and all community members must be involved in developing their pandemic plans.

SCO has developed a CD which provides a collection of literature regarding pandemic information as posted on the internet, including activities for children. As many of our communities lack critical infrastructure, this CD removes the painstaking task of spending hours trying to find pandemic literature. CD’s are provided to each person attending our exercises. The host location of each exercise, which is open to participation, can be found on our website at

http://www.scoinc.mb.ca/health_pandemic_influenza.php

Additionally, we are currently producing a DVD on Pandemic Influenza and First Nations, which is slated to be released by the end of March, 2009.

Lastly, our Table Top Exercises provide an overview of pandemic influenza and also create a mock scenario of the outbreak of a global pandemic. Feedback from each exercise has been excellent, providing vital information to the community on preparedness. As our tag states: Pandemic Influenza – Preparing Communities; Preparing You.