There are times when I find it difficult to remain gracefully dispassionate, especially when I come across something that I believe to be not only egregiously ignorant, but also a danger to the public. What makes today's topic so angering is the latest on the Influenza Pandemic front out of Ireland.
For all Ireland's high profile stocking up on antiretrovirals, each household will be urged to have the humble thermometer and paracetamol or ibuprofen in the event of a flu pandemic, according to a new Government handbook.
An introductory handbook on the Government's emergency planning plan, distributed recently to households across the country, says that while there will be more worldwide flu pandemics, the time and severity of their occurrence and the age groups on which their impact will be most severe cannot be predicted.
However, every household in the country will receive a leaflet before the pandemic reaches Ireland advising the measures including stocking up on a thermometer, paracetamol/ibuprofen, that should be taken. The Government will advise citizens to begin these preparations if and when the WHO confirms that a pandemic is imminent.
The guide also advises buying enough food and other supplies in advance of the pandemic to last "you and your household for at least one week", and advises awareness of hygiene measures to prevent infection.
Under the plan, the handbook says it is essential that people with flu symptoms stay at home while the indications persist, unless they receive other advice from a telephone hotline, which will be set up to provide advice and support, or from official Government announcements through the media.
The PDF of the handbook may be found here for those who wish to verify, as I did, that this is not a misquote but what is really being said.
Advising action only after the WHO declares an Alert Level Four pandemic threat will no doubt ensure that just about every household in Ireland will be out trying to purchase supplies at exactly the same time. As someone who is threatened with hurricanes on a regular basis I can attest to what it is like when many people attempt to buy the exact same supplies at exactly the same time. There just isn't enough supply to meet demand.
However, the entire timing strategy could prove to be naively misguided as publicly Ireland's Office of Emergency Planning is telling everyone that there will be time for everyone to become prepared (buy that thermometer and fever reducer). What if there's not?
What if an influenza pandemic bursts upon the world much as SARS did in 2003? Not an unreasonable question as influenza spreads much easier from person to person than SARS did, and we could find ourselves in the grips of said pandemic even before WHO has time to verify and announce its arrival.
Well actually, Ireland does have plans in place to deal with an unprepared public should a severe pandemic befall the world. This from NewsLetter.co.uk February 9, 2007:
A straw poll among district councils across Northern Ireland
yesterday revealed they are planning for at least 20,000 extra
graves to cope with a possible flu pandemic. Ian Starrett, Johnny Caldwell, Laura Murphy and Philip Bradfield report on how different councils are managing.
Since the advice given to the Irish people, diligently mailed to every household, is so meager, and by any logic ridiculously inadequate, it's a good thing the district councils have planned to bury so many.
But it begs the question: Why is the official assumption that they will need those mass graves and yet the only advice they are giving their citizens is to purchase a thermometer and fever reducer? Would it not be wiser to advise people to stock up on a few more weeks of food so they don't have to be out and about possibly becoming infected, and a few more medical home treatment items?
Could it be that Ireland's Office of Emergency Planning has decided that the only effective action any citizen can effect is to depend on the Office of Emergency Planning? And that when they are exhausted and depleted it's just easier to toss the flu victims into those well thought out mass graves? Do the planners in the Office of Emergency Planning think their constituents are that stupid and personally incapable as to have no need of genuine guidance and advice? It certainly appears that way to me.
Officials are preparing for the range of severity of a potential pandemic, from mild-to-severe; meanwhile they are telling the public it will be little more than an inconvenient case of "the flu". Well, OK, they are not saying that explicitly, but it is what their message implies.
I would suggest that the citizens of Ireland politely suggest where the Office of Emergency Planning can stuff those thermometers.