- Local newspapers, international news magazines, and the
internet have been replete with articles about the probable outbreak of
an avian flu pandemic. All paint a grim picture of between 7.4 million
and 150 million deaths within a period of five and a half months. It is
not a blown-up figure they project, as they cite the pandemic of 1918 which
claimed 100 million lives in that span of time.
- Some scientists say it is not a matter of if, but when
the disease will sweep all over the world. For this reason, the World Health
Organization has sent out warnings to all nations and advised them to develop
preparedness plans. Travel ban, quarantine, closure of public places, cancellation
of mass gatherings, and declaration of state of emergency are among the
measures the Philippine government is ready to adopt when migratory birds
bring the virus to our land.
- That is preparedness at the national level. But are the
gated communities where most of the readers of this newspaper reside prepared
to cope with the grim situation? I asked a friend, a public health practitioner,
who is now posted at the Kobe office of WHO, if the organization has pro-forma
plans which communities can adopt to deal with the daunting situation.
It has none.
- Public health officials have created the chilling scenario
of hospitals and other health facilities being overwhelmed by the number
of patients seeking treatment and other health services; health professionals
being reduced in number because they, after being exposed to the virus,
are themselves down with the sickness; anti-viral agents and antibiotics
being exhausted; basic services like power, water, transportation, and
communication severely strained by absenteeism; drugstores, grocery stores,
restaurants, and public markets closed and padlocked to prevent looting
by a desperate population.
- Most people would have to fend for themselves. If a member
of the family got infected, he will have to be taken care of and treated
by the others at home. Should families now stock up on anti-viral agents
and medicines, and foodstuff like rice, canned goods, drinking water, and
even face masks and rubber gloves? Who would determine when and what dosage
of medicine should be given the sick person, or who would administer intravenous
antibiotics since health practitioners may be fully occupied at health
centers or are themselves incapacitated by the flu?
- The household help, who ordinarily take the brunt of
the burden of helping in the care of the sick at home, like fetching drinking
water, washing stained linen, and cleaning the dirtied floor, may not be
of much help as they might also be down with the flu. The stay-out family
driver may not report for work as he may also be afflicted or has to take
care of a sick member of his own family. Given their normal living conditions
of congested community and poor sanitary conditions, they would be more
vulnerable in the event of an epidemic. If a maid gets afflicted, she would
have to be isolated so as not to infect others who, in most instances,
sleep in the same cramped quarters. Where will she be placed? If she had
infected other household help, who would take care of them? You, their
- If the subdivision draws water by pumping it out of its
own deep wells, what happens when electric power is reduced or completely
cut off due to the absence of operators at power stations? The outsourced
security force might also be reduced markedly in size by the epidemic.
Like the family driver, security guards would be more vulnerable to the
flu due to their living conditions. Garbage collection will completely
cease as collectors, in all probability, would be incapacitated.
- If we go by the mortality rates, it is inevitable that
there would be deaths among the afflicted cared for at home. With traditional
funeral services not available due to the unavailability of a funeral crew,
what does the family do?
- As public health organizations or institutions have no
suggestions as to how communities can deal with the frightening situation,
it is time for community leaders to come up with their own preparedness
plan. They should exchange ideas with leaders of other communities.
- Some ideas are the conversion of the subdivision clubhouse
into the nerve center of contingency activities, formation of security
details with the young male residents of the village under the supervision
of former military officers (in our subdivision, there must be 10 generals,
among them heroes of EDSA 1), acquisition of an incinerator for burning
garbage, and conversion of a school in the subdivision into a temporary
infirmary to be supervised by physicians and other health professionals
residing in the village, with able domestic helpers taking turns going
- Other contingency measures would be the pooling of generators
of homeowners to power water pumps, the formation of a provision committee
composed of the ladies of the community who will procure the basic needs,
supervise their storage, and manage the distribution or even create a temporary
commissary for more efficient use of cooking fuel, their daughters helping
out, and the formation of a brigade of young boys who will gather firewood.
- These may all seem laughable at this point. A year before
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, a scenario of deluge, destruction, and
death was drawn and presented to city officials and community leaders.
In typical American braggadocio, they shrugged it off and said, "We
will know what to do if and when it does happen." No hurricane in
the long history of the city has ever wreaked damage that was anywhere
near the scenario. When Katrina unleashed its fury on the city, creating
a situation that was strikingly similar to the picture painted a year before,
the people were caught not knowing what to do. Many policemen, overwhelmed
by the disorder and destruction, turned in their badges and went home.
Some even joined in the looting out of desperation.
- When the avian flu sweeps over the land, its impact would
be much more tremendous than that of the tsunami that hit parts of Indonesia,
Thailand, and Sri Lanka, than that of Katrina that blew away the age-old
city of New Orleans, than that of the earthquake that destroyed parts of
Pakistan. Unlike the victims of the tsunami, hurricane, and the earthquake,
we won't get help from any country as the desolation will be global.
- We have to prepare and now!
- Copyright 2005 BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation