Did the Pan-American Health Organization Drop the Ball?

There has been widespread agreement that once the World Health Organization deemed the Swine Flu  Influenza A(H1N1) an international public health emergency the WHO reacted in swift and responsible way.  Procedures for handling international public health emergencies that were formed following the SARS outbreak in 2003 (the so-called International Health Regulations of 2005) seem to have worked as planned; there has been robust international cooperation for dealing with this threat and the WHO has risen to the challenge.

Still, one question unresolved is why there was an eight day gap between the time that Mexico first identified troubling patterns of flu and when these WHO emergency procedures kicked in.  Public health experts with whom I have spoken initially suspected that the delay was caused by Mexican authorities who were slow to report their findings to the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO’s regional headquarters in Washington, D.C.   According to a report in the Associated Press, however, this is not so.   Mexico’s chief epidemiologist Dr. Miguel Angel Lezana tells the AP that he reported to PAHO about “alarming occurrences of flu and atypical pneumonia in Mexico” back on April 16.   He claims that his messages to PAHO went unreturned.  

When the dust settles questions about this eight day gap should be answered.  Like I said, the WHO deserves praise for how it has handled  Swine Flu Influenza A(H1N1) once an emergency was declared.  Why it took so long to do so is something that the WHO and its member states will have to investigate.

Photo: PAHO’s iconic headquarters in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C.