Sunday, November 6, 2005
The New York Times has two interesting editorials on the avian flu. The first is by former Speaker of the House Newt Gringrich and Robert Egge. They argue that the government needs to change dramatically to ensure an adequate response to the upcoming pandemic. They state,
What we need to do to prepare for and respond to a pandemic is change the very way the government delivers services. And to do that, the following initiatives must be integrated into the government's response:
Designate a single, accountable leader. An avian flu pandemic is among the greatest threats to our country today. Given our vulnerability and the amount of work to be done, the president must appoint a leader who is singularly focused on avian flu. This leader must be fully accountable for the government's progress. And the president must make it clear that this leader speaks on his behalf. . . .
Replace bureaucratic administration with entrepreneurial management. If an avian flu pandemic sweeps the United States, it will pose a tremendous challenge in terms of speed, lethality and complexity. Federal, state and local governments will need to act with the speed and agility of the information age.
Prepare for the days of a phony war mentality. Until we receive word that a pandemic is loose in this country, last week's announcement could well be the high point of public attention to the threat posed by avian flu. The pressure to prepare will decline. And as this happens, government attention will be pulled in other directions. . . .
A leading example of such an investment is an electronic health record system, which would allow the federal government to track the course and impact of a pandemic in real time. Public health experts widely agree that this kind of network would not only allow for safer and more efficient care under normal circumstances, but would also equip federal, state and local governments with the data needed to direct scarce therapies, medical teams and supplies to where they are most needed as a pandemic unfolds. There's no good reason why every American couldn't have a preliminary electronic health record by the end of 2006.
Just a few of their suggestions that didn't strike me as as too outlandish. The second editorial is by Olivia judson and discusses how the evolving avian flu strand should demonstrate for all the validity of Darwin's theory of evolution and importance in the classroom. She concludes,
But the most important point is this: viruses and other pathogens evolve in ways that we can understand and, to some extent, predict. Whether it's preventing a flu pandemic or tackling malaria, we can use our knowledge of evolutionary processes in powerful and practical ways, potentially saving the lives of tens of millions of people. So let's not strip evolution from the textbooks, or banish it from the class, or replace it with ideologies born of wishful thinking. If we do, we might find ourselves facing the consequences of natural selection.