There are two types of influenza; seasonal and pandemic. Flu viruses already circulating amongst the population cause seasonal outbreaks and people have some resistance to them. Pandemic influenza is caused by a new strain of flu virus that people have had no previous exposure to. Pandemic influenza is therefore likely to infect many more people and cause complications in otherwise healthy individuals.
The Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness (H2P) Programme has been developed to assist vulnerable communities respond to an influenza pandemic.
Ten pandemics have been recorded in the last 300 years, including 3 in the 20th century (1918, 1957 and 1968). The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Influenza A (H1N1) virus or swine flu pandemic in June 2009.
The Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic
The WHO has six defined phases of pandemic alert that are used for preparedness planning and response to a pandemic. The current WHO phase of pandemic alert is 6: “Widespread human infection’.
Although it is a pandemic, the current H1N1 outbreak seems to be mild, so that although thousands of people have been confirmed to be sick, only a few deaths occurred.
The potential impact
With increased global travel and high population concentrations in major cities - if the swine flu pandemic is as virulent as the 1918 pandemic, the consequences could be catastrophic. Healthcare systems could rapidly be overburdened; schools, banks, shops and government offices closed and transportation and public utilities interrupted.
All nations could be affected by the swine flu pandemic, but developing countries will be the most vulnerable. Unlike the aftermath following other large-scale disasters, access to aid from traditional donor countries could be very limited or even non-existent as they struggle against the pandemic within their own borders.
The Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Programme
In anticipation of an influenza pandemic, the H2P programme had already been initiated to help vulnerable communities prepare. Coordinated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), H2P is a three year programme (October 2007 to September 2010) aimed at equipping communities with a fully prepared, ‘off-the-shelf’ response to an influenza pandemic.
It will equip front-line people in the community with the tools necessary to provide the most rapid, coordinated and effective response possible, designed to limit mortality, safeguard livelihoods and maintain cohesion in society – in those countries most vulnerable to a pandemic influenza outbreak.
H2P Programme principal objectives
- To support the development of influenza pandemic preparedness plans and protocols for communities in the areas of health, food security and livelihoods in designated countries
- To strengthen the in-country capacities of staff and volunteers of humanitarian and civil society organizations to carry out influenza pandemic preparedness plans and protocols
- To ensure coordination between global, national and district and community level stakeholders, including the UN system, in the preparedness and response of the humanitarian sector
H2P Programme partners
The IFRC is the overall coordinating agency. Other partners include international organizations and agencies such as the CORE Group, AI.COMM, and InterAction. The WHO, the World Food Programme and other UN agencies are also involved.
Focus of work
The central work focus is to ensure that local populations can access realistic and sustainable ‘off-the-shelf’ pandemic preparedness plans and that community and district leaders can implement these plans.
This complex process involves several steps:
- researching the country’s readiness and capacities at both national and community levels
- adapting global training and communications material for the country concerned
- testing the materials and methodology in several districts and/or communities
- training local district leaders
- carrying out relevant training exercises in certain communities
These activities will require close coordination and cohesion between many different parties.
Projects will be designed to integrate into existing programmes (health or disaster preparedness) at community level in countries of operation.