The 2006 U.S. Coast Guard Innovation Expo is being held this week at the Tampa convention center. This afternoons keynote speaker was Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, she spoke about Pandemics, and how the government can plan to react to them at the national level. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer was there and filed this report.

Gerberding began as head of the CDC only 10 days before the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Since that day, the CDC has been in response mode 26 times, including the anthrax scare, bird flu, hurricane Katrina, SARS, and the protest surrounding the Republican national convention, to name a few. But it was 9/11, Gerberding says, which changed the way she looks at preparing for and responding to a public health emergency.

ACT “We like many others reviewed the 9-11 report. Probably the challenge of imagination, when I first read it that what went wrong was our inability to imagine these events, but when I read more info, and then thought about other catastrophes, I began to question that premise..mystery novel 2 years before 9-11 attacks..so someone had imagined that scenario..anthrax attacks, but a year before someone put a pathogen..anthrax as well..�

Gerberding said the same is true for other emerging threats like the global outbreak of SARS, a flu vaccine shortage, and the disaster of hurricane Katrina. All of these had been written about in details in either fiction or journalism years before.

ACT “Knowing the consequences is something people had integrated, but acting on that was something that had not happened..it’s a failure to act. Ostrich in the sand, they are under attack from a predator, however, this has never been observed and the reason is that the ostrich would suffocate, sticking you head in the sand is not effective strategy and we need to do better than that.�

Gerberding said that complacency is the biggest challenge that the US must overcome in the face of a disaster, and taking initiative is the solution. She said the H5N1 flu problem has woken the CDC up from complacency to a degree, but it will take the entire government, not just one agency, to properly prepare. However, she noted that overall, the US does a pretty good job handling emergencies, they do a pretty good job—with the glaring exception of Hurricane Katrina.

ACT “We believe that one of the issues was the challenge of capacity, or scale, it was big in terms of its geography. The fact that it occurred, it was part of the can can line. But it was also, and required a big capacity response because of the region. Louisiana and Miss are 49 and 50 in health. We have lots of scaling challenges..flu, our planning..if many of the parameters hold true we would expect 1.9 million to die, but more challenging is 750,00 people requiring ventilator support..we can’t do that we don’t have the ventilators or physicians, we don’t have the supply chain of durable medical goods, they are from international markets..�

The US also only has about 1/12 of the production capability to produce the amount of flu vaccine which would be needed to make the entire US population immune. The CDC also deals with non-urgent threats such as Obesity, diabetes, STDs, TB, and tobacco use. The solution to addressing these issues and emergencies, Gerberding said, is a high degree of leadership by heads of state, connectivity between government agencies, different governments, and the private sector. She used India as an example.

ACT “If you’ve ever been in India on immunization day, millions get vaccine on one day. We can’t even comprehend. We are moving towards being able to confront challenges, we have been behind of HIV, but that is beginning to change..�

The Coast Guard Innovation Expo continues at the Tampa convention center through Wednesday afternoon.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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