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NZ Leads Way With Online Pandemic Planning

NEWS RELEASE 20 April 2006

NZ Leads Way With Online Pandemic Planning

New Zealand employers are being offered a head start in preparing their staff for a possible influenza pandemic.

From today Kiwi companies can invest in what is believed to be the world’s first fully monitored and measured on-line learning course dedicated to preparing the commercial sector for a potential influenza pandemic.

The Immunisation Advisory Service (IMAC) at the University of Auckland, through its on-line learning initiative iCOMET (IMAC’s Centre for Online Medical and Education Training), has developed a channel for employers to educate their staff, clients and suppliers on how to prepare for, and deal with, a major influenza outbreak.

The e-learning module has the capacity to be accessed by large volumes of users and the ability to accurately measure uptake and comprehension by staff. It has recently been used to develop a pandemic influenza training programme for New Zealand primary health care professionals.

The logistics have been solved by award-winning on-line learning solutions company GuideTools and its “Aegility e-learning workplace” platform with the content sourced from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and New Zealand’s Ministry of Health.

The launch of the course is timely given consistent news reports that the deadly avian influenza virus H5N1 has been reported in an increasing number of countries throughout Asia, Europe and into Africa.

Dr Nikki Turner, the Director of IMAC and the senior technical immunisation advisor on the project, says modern-day communication would be a major defence in the battle against any influenza pandemic. Every country, Dr Turner said, is talking preparedness as the most important course of action. That meant forewarning and forearming.

“Until a pandemic virus has evolved, a vaccine cannot be developed,” she said. “Therefore, with the arrival of a pandemic there will be a delay before being able to source vaccines, let alone distribute them, and essential services are likely to be placed under extreme pressure.

“Promoting safe practices in the workplace and at home are crucial to minimising and stopping the spread of an outbreak in order to keep the country running as normally as possible.”

GuideTools general counsel Jennie Vickers says the New Zealand Health and Safety in Employment Act makes it mandatory for employers to do everything possible to protect their employees in the workplace.

“But the legal ramifications pale into insignificance next to the social and financial costs if an influenza pandemic became a reality,” Ms Vickers said. “No business could afford to be without the majority of its workforce for weeks at a time and the social impact with regards to mortality rates could be extreme.”

The GuideTools’ Aegility program has a two-pronged approach to preparing Kiwis for any outbreak.

The course houses a wealth of basic common sense information about previous pandemics and also catalogues steps to take in the event of an outbreak. The unique engine then records who has read the information and, even more importantly, measures and scores each person’s level of comprehension through the interactive assessments required to be completed by each person.

GuideTools’ Aegility founder John Sumner says the course provides businesses with a ready-made, end to end solution for meeting their responsibilities to employees and assisting employees to meet theirs.

“Simply asking people to read material is a bit naïve when we all lead such busy lives,” Mr Sumner said. “The training has to be proven to have been implemented and understood.

“Our in-built monitoring shows us exactly who has accessed what content and when. And we can file reports to employers advising the level of comprehension by department and/or by individual.”

GuideTools’ Aegility first investigated the potential to mass-educate people at short notice when SARS reared its head in 2003, building an easily updated and scalable platform as the most cost-effective way for businesses to meet their legal obligations to inform and protect their staff.

“With on-line assisted learning there is no venue hire, no training delivery costs, no transport expenses and no accommodation costs. We provide one end-to-end, secure, fully trackable package that is simple to use and allows the ‘student’ to learn at their own pace in their own environment.

“With an issue as important as pandemic training, companies could also save substantially in the long run by maintaining productivity in the event of a global scare. If staff are aware of the steps they need to take in order to help stay safe, the number of work hours lost can be minimised.”

IMAC – through Auckland UniServices Ltd, the commercial arm of the University of Auckland – and GuideTools’ Aegility will share revenue from subscriptions to the resource to help cover the cost of development, content updating and ongoing support.

The course is being delivered at $30 +GST per employee for 12 month’s access, including content updates, but a significant discount is available for large companies subscribing “in volume”. Additional monitoring services are available if companies have limited support personnel available.

Dr Turner says e-learning provides the scope to easily adjust content for specific client requirements, as well as update content.

“At the moment we’re in what WHO calls Code White, planning for a pandemic and being on stand-by. If we get to Code Red, where a pandemic becomes a reality, the type of information we need to emphasise can easily be changed,” Dr Turner said.

“We don’t know the timing, but at some stage there will be another influenza pandemic. We are in the unique position of being able to prepare well to minimise the effect of a future pandemic, more so than ever before.”

ENDS

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