Some questions for the Irish government

Richard Waghorne recently noted the staggering statistics about China in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs:

Consider this sobering information: the most recent influenza pandemic, of 1968-69, emerged in China, when its population was 790 million; today it is 1.3 billion. In 1968, the number of pigs in China was 5.2 million; today it is 508 million. The number of poultry in China in 1968 was 12.3 million; today it is 13 billion. Changes in other Asian countries are similar. Given these developments, as well as the exponential growth in foreign travel over the past 50 years, an influenza pandemic could be more devastating than ever before.

I am very concerned about the inevitable flu pandemic that will hit the world, and based on the 1918-19 pandemic we could be in for quite a few deaths. While one can’t directly relate population figures to death rates from the 1918-19 pandemic to now, one could hazard a guess.

The population of the world in 1919 was circa 2 billion, it now stands at over 6.5 billion. Estimated deaths in 1919 were 100 million globally, but that figure could be much higher. Given the ease of travel, increases in medical technology (at least in the West where they can be implemented), and the ratio of poor to rich people in the world, what would be a fair figure to guess at for projected deaths from the next pandemic? I would hazard 500 million, but feel free to point to any studies into this.

So for those of us in the small island at the edge of Europe, what precautions have been taken? I have no idea, so I fired off an email to the NDSC:

Q. Are you aware of any specific precautionary measures the Irish government have taken with regard to a possible or indeed inevitable influenza pandemic?

Q. Are there any plans or trials to license the sale of antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir phosphate, amantadine or rimantadine?

Q. Given that zanamivir is the only licensed antiviral, have the government stockpiled this drug in any way, shape, or form?

Q. How many mechanical ventilators are there available in the Republic, and are there any stockpiled?

Q. How quickly could Ireland gain adequate numbers of vaccines in the event of an outbreak of Type A influenza?

Q. Does the Irish government have any specific emergency planning in relation to an influenza pandemic?

I will let you know how it goes.

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