Interviewee: Laurie Garrett, CFR Senior Fellow for Global Health
Interviewer: Toni Johnson, CFR Staff Writer
June 12, 2009
After weeks of debate, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its pandemic threat level alert from five to six, declaring swine flu (H1NI influenza) a full-blown pandemic. "What now kicks in is a greater sense of urgency for the pharmaceutical industry," says CFR Senior Fellow for Global Health Laurie Garrett. "Now that pandemic has been declared, more and more countries will guarantee that they will purchase vaccine if it is available, and WHO and World Bank will guarantee to purchase for the poorest countries in the world."
Garrett says a number of factors delayed the organization from raising the threat level earlier. When this system for declaring pandemics was developed, she says, it was developed using the model of the bird flu (H5N1 influenza), a virus that is extremely virulent but not readily transmitted between people. Because of this, Garrett says, the WHO didn't worry about the severity issue, they worried about examples of human-to-human transmission. Garrett, who recently wrote in the New York Times on the issue, says the problem is that swine flu perfectly fits the system but is a "wimpy virus"--the opposite of what they expected--that is highly transmissible but not very virulent. "The truth of the matter is all the qualifications for jumping to pandemic six, under their criteria, were met a month ago if not six weeks ago," she says.
Another issue, Garrett says, is the organization can't fundamentally change any aspect of its regulatory apparatus without getting approval from the WHO's governing body, the World Health Assembly, which gives equal representation to each of its 193-member countries. Changes can sometimes be "a very difficult process because different countries have different cultural, economic, and political issues that come to play," she says. When the assembly met for their annual meeting in May, WHO officials knew that there was this looming pandemic threat and tried to get countries to acknowledge the need for preparedness. But "there were some countries that were not happy about this," Garrett says."They felt that far more serious health problems were being shoved aside such as infant mortality questions and HIV/AIDS." It took three days of emergency meetings in June to win enough international support to finally get the threat level raised, she says.
Maximalist finds lessons in the past that anticipate and clarify our chaotic present, revealing the history of U.S. foreign policy in an unexpected new light. More
This clear and authoritative book presents a sweeping account of China's global resource quest and the unrivaled expansion of its economy. More
The story of the tragic and often tormented relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and a call to prepare for the worst, aim for the best, and avoid past mistakes. More
This Independent Task Force asserts that elevating and prioritizing the U.S.-Canada-Mexico relationship offers the best opportunity for strengthening the United States and its place in the world.
This Independent Task Force report finds that as more people and services become interconnected and dependent on the Internet, societies are becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.
In the absence of credible, strong political leadership, paranoia about disease can go viral. Laurie Garrett and Maxine Builder explain how...
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reportedly claimed close to 4,000 lives, and World Health Organization officials believe the true death...
As American politicians encourage the use of fever checks at airports and travel bans to stem the global spread of Ebola, Laurie Garrett...