July 28, 2009

Mayors say Canada has no swine flu plan

Canada has no plan to keep essential services going if a swine flu pandemic becomes a plague, a key national group of mayors and other municipal officials said.

The global outbreak of the H1N1 virus has exposed a serious gap in the federal government's overall pandemic preparedness strategy, Federation of Canadian Municipalities President Basil Stewart wrote in an open letter to Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

With no complete national plan or even guidelines in place, critical services that provide the foundation for effective pandemic response measures are at risk, his letter said.

The health of workers who keep cities and towns running would be especially important in a pandemic escalation, the federation argues.

For instance, police may be needed to keep order outside hospitals and clinics, transit workers would be needed to get health workers to their jobs and municipal health officials would have to coordinate the disease response, the federation says.

The federal government created a 500-page pandemic plan in 2006, but the municipalities say it's incomplete,The Globe and Mail reported.

For instance, it does not spell out which groups would have priority to receive a vaccine expected to go into production in November, the newspaper said.

Nor does it specify how to give priority for access to antiviral medicines or ventilators that assist flu-stricken lungs if there is a shortage of doses or equipment.

An Aglukkaq spokeswoman said H1N1 epidemiological work would be important in guiding the decision making on the vaccine prioritization and deciding who gets first access to treatment is the responsibility of the provinces and territories.