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Dramatic lack of planning harming pandemic preparation

By Nick Taylor+

25-Jan-2011

There is a dramatic lack of planning for the production and distribution of medical pandemic countermeasures, according to an OECD report.

A pandemic infectious disease could severely hinder activity at many businesses, from food to telecoms, and as such efforts are being made to mitigate the threat. Individual nations, such as the US , have discussed strategies but the nature of the threat means global action is needed.

In his Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report Harvey Rubin, from the University of Pennsylvania, is critical of the lack of production and distribution planning. Failure to prepare production is caused, in part, by a lack of globally shared real-time information.

There is not sufficient interoperable, globally shared information available in real-time about pandemic risk inventories, hazards or threatened segments of the built or natural infrastructure”, wrote Rubin.

To tackle this and other issues Rubin proposes a four-point International Compact for Infectious Diseases. This would, among other things, use advanced information technology to track and share: epidemiological data; clinical trial information; material transfer agreements; and skills.

Surveillance and sharing are vital to the plan. “In the absence of effective biosurveillance it becomes difficult to project which strain of an emerging disease represents the most significant threat, which in turn hampers our ability to create countermeasures”, said Rubin.

As such, surveillance data will feed Mission III which calls for expansion of “capabilities for the production and distribution of vaccines and therapeutics expressly for emerging and reemerging infections”.

Mission III

Implementation of Mission III will require funding, resolution of intellectual property disputes and incentives for innovation. Rubin suggests the health impact fund (HIF), proposed in 2008 , as a tool for incentivising development and production of drugs and vaccines, especially for the poor.

HIF would be funded by a percentage of gross domestic profit (GDP) from participating nations. Development projects receive HIF funds based on the product’s contribution to global health. Products developed using HIF funds are sold wherever needed for the lowest production costs.

Adopting HIF would stimulate production and distribution of lower priced drugs and discourage the spread of counterfeit medicines, according to Rubin. To ensure drugs reach patients without losing efficacy Rubin backs the Energize the Chain project that leverages cell phone towers.

Removing barriers

The compact would bring together government, the private sector and academia and increase awareness of each others’ activities. Institutionalising relationships will help pharma companies find partners to help take promising leads through development.

Finally, bringing stakeholders together will encourage dialogue about regulatory harmonisation. Through harmonisation of regulatory processes barriers to market entry can be lowered to ensure the wide distribution of needed therapeutics.

The report is part of the OECD Future Global Shocks project which aims to generate strategies to identify, anticipate, control, contain and mitigate large disasters. Other topics include: systemic financial risk; cyber risks; geomagnetic storms; social unrest; and anticipating extreme events.

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