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Avian Flu in Asia

An Agriculture Ministry worker sprays disinfectant at cages at a bird farm in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Sept. 26, 2005. (quiplash/flickr)

An Agriculture Ministry worker sprays disinfectant at cages at a bird farm in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Sept. 26, 2005. (quiplash/flickr)

On October 10, 2006, the Asia Society and Pfizer, Inc. co-sponsored a panel discussion at the Asia Society headquarters in New York City: "How Should Asia Prepare for the Next Great Pandemic." The speakers at the discussion include members of the private and public sector, offering their expert opinion with regard to preparedness in the event of a pandemic. The topic is particularly relevant with the prevalence of the deadly H5N1 subtype of Avian Influenza, spanning the regions of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Although the discussion focuses on Asia's role in the next pandemic, the panel recognizes the global implications of a regionalized public health threat.

Panelists included Donald G. Ainslie, a Principal at Deloitte & Touche, Andrew Erickson, a research fellow at the Naval War College and Dr. David Nabarro,  Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza at the United Nations Headquarters. The discussion was moderated by Elisabeth Rosenthal, reporter for the International Herald Tribune.

This diverse group of representatives provides a complex understanding of pandemic preparedness. The private sector is a significant stakeholder in pandemic preparedness from an economic, social, and public health standpoint. Human resources management plays an integral role in the response and containment of a public health threat: Corporations are international, and their primary objective is to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees world-wide in order to protect the productivity of business. From the perspective of the private sector participant, the complexity of business continuity in the event of a pandemic is integral. Also, business continuity has global implications because in a pandemic outbreak corporate policies and procedures to deal with employees stationed abroad can affect the spread of an infectious disease.

The government sector is another stakeholder: In a recent Council on Foreign Relations meeting titled "The Global Health Challenge," global health expert Laurie Garrett commends the work of the United States Navy for their response to the 2004 tsunami. Garrett states that the U.S. Navy was the most successful emergency responder, providing the ground with physicians, doctors, and logistics/supply personal. The U.S. Pacific Command supervises more than 300,000 troops in the pacific region, and if properly trained, these forces can play an effective role in both the preparedness and response to a pandemic.

The economic costs of the SARS outbreak should indicate the urgency for a comprehensive preparedness plan. A great deal of money has been allocated for preparedness with regard to other national security threats such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters. However, the lack of preparedness in the event of a pandemic is ominous judging from its reported inevitability. If more money is spent on preparedness plans and response strategies, it could shield stakeholders from expected economic costs and possible human losses. This inaugural program in the Global Health Series at the Asia Society underscores the relevancy of cooperation to secure preparedness policies, advance global surveillance, and formulate effective response strategies.

Richard Holbrooke: Good afternoon and welcome to Asia Society. My name is Richard Holbrooke, and I am chairman of the board of Asia Society. I am just delighted to see so many people here, and particularly those of you that don't often come to Asia Society because our health programs area very important and a new emerging part of what we do—started under our former president Nick Platt, who is here today and continued with our current president Vishakha Desai. For those of you who haven't been here before, the Asia Society is now 50 years old. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary. Because it is a complicated, hybrid organization people aren't always sure what we do because our museum is so world famous that sometimes people are not aware of our other programs: policy, business, and education. In fact we have two fantastic shows on the second and third floors right now that I hope you will see. Both received very glowing reviews from the art critics in the New York Times and so on: one modern Asian American art and the other an extraordinary show of never before seen treasures from an ancient Chinese civilization, which is little know in the west. But we also do education and policy programs. The policy programs range from Asian Leaders to American Political Leaders. We have a series of all the national political figures: Governor Vilsack and Senator Edwards will both be year within the next month. Senator Brown Back and Governor Warner have been here and almost all the other national figures you've heard mentioned for higher office have accepted to speak sometime next year. We have emergency programs on major issues. When the tsunami hit and the Pakistani earthquake hit, we assembled in this room to discuss it. We had live interactive TV with tsunami victims, school children, and Sri Lanka talking to New York City school children. We've had major policy discussions and we invite you to participate. One of the things that we initiated a few years ago was a health program focused on HIV/AIDS with a grant from the Gates Foundation. Betsy Williams who is standing at the door there came over from Columbia School of Public Health to run it. She has now been running it for several years with great success. Building on that success, we have decided to expand it into health in general. Obviously AIDS is a forerunner of modern kinds of diseases, which are unprecedented and create enormous dangers for everyone. That is what we are here to discuss today. How should Asia prepare for the next great pandemic? We will talk about Avian Flu, but also malaria fever and tuberculosis, and I will let other people talk about this in detail. I also wear another hat as President and CEO of the Global Business Coalition against HIV/AIDS. That is an organization of over 220 corporate members all over the world who have committed that their companies will fight AIDS—some by very active involvement through their work and others through public activacy. Several companies in this room today are members. The one I want to single out is Pfizer because Pfizer links both the global business coalition and Asia Society. Barbara Duboino—who is here today, will be on the panel, and used to be commissioner for public health for the state of New York—will address more in a moment about Pfizer. Barbara, I want to thank you and through you Jeff Kindler and the whole Pfizer Corporation for your support and leadership in this area. So, without any further ado, I want to ask the panel to come up here. As they come up, I will then turn it over to the moderator. The moderator is Elisabeth Rosenthal, who is well known to all of you who are Asia Society extended family because she won the first Osborne Elliot prize for outstanding journalism in Asia when she was Beijing Bureau Chief of the New York Times. We are very proud of Elisabeth, and she now works at New York Times International Herald Tribune. I didn't know there was much difference, but it turns out that something about the expense accounts. Elisabeth, if you want to come up and then bring the other three members of the panel up here and introduce them, that would be great.

Barbara A. DeBuono, MD, MPH (Pfizer): I am just going to say a couple of words from Pfizer, and Libby has graciously agreed to just wait a couple of seconds while I say hello from Pfizer. Libby is going to give me that good will because we knew each other years ago when I was working in New York as the commissioner, and she reporter on the health beat for the New York Times. I remember when she was up here in 1996 or 1997. It is great to see you. We are delighted to sponsor this event. I have been privileged to be at Pfizer for 6 years running public health and policy. My colleagues who work every day in and with the Asia markets, asked me to come here today and say a few words. It is really their leadership that has lead to the sponsorship of this event because they are so committed to a successful enterprise in the region. I have to tell you that we—as a company, as a multi-national global company—are incredibly committed to addressing this issue of pandemic planning. It has really been an experience for me personally as well as my colleagues in not only learning what all the complex issues are that we need to address, but we have actually learned about resources and assets within the company that we never knew were there. So I have gotten to meet people in IT, people in business continuity, and people in Human Resources, all of whom are going to need to be mobilized. We are planning to mobilize when this happens. I say when this happens because despite the words of my sixteen year old over the weekend when he saw that I was coming here and said, 'Mom, enough already with this pandemic thing. Is it happening or not?' I think you will here more from our panelists about whether or not we can actually anticipate a month or year, two years or six months. This kind of thing goes in waves and cycles in terms of the attention that the U.S. media plays to this. Right now it is a little bit quiet, but it will cycle back up again, probably as soon as the domestic flu season starts to take hold. I just want to say a word about why this is so important to Pfizer. It is really the health of our colleagues throughout the world that is so important to us. The health and the well-being of our colleagues is certainly what we care most about. We would not be company, we would not be developing and discovering new products, new therapies, without the people that work in our organization. It is because of their health and their safety and their well-being that we feel it is important to have a pandemic planning team, a business continuity team, a global security team, IT, and human resources and public health all working together to address this potential medical crisis along with so many other catastrophes. It might not necessarily be infectious disease crises, but maybe chemical, maybe terrorist, maybe environmental. So with that I just want to thank the Asia Society for hosting this. I think this is terrific. It is going to be a terrific panel. Again, Pfizer is delighted to be here and has the privilege to sponsor this.