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Confidence in NZ Level of Pandemic Preparedness

Media Release

5 February 2007

Ministry of Health Confident with New Zealand's Level of Pandemic Preparedness

The Ministry of Health says New Zealand's pandemic planning is among the best in the world and is confident the country will be ready when the big one hits.

Steve Brazier, New Zealand National Coordinator of Pandemic Planning says, with the latest bird flu outbreak in the UK where about 2500 turkeys have been killed by the H5N1 virus strain, Kiwis need to remain on alert.

"New Zealanders can be assured that when a pandemic hits this country, we will be ready. And it is a case of 'when' not 'if'.  We can't afford to become complacent about the possibility of a pandemic."

"Pandemics of this kind are not something new . The Spanish flu of 1918-19 infected 40 per cent of New Zealand’s population and killed over 8000. It is important that we learn the lessons that history has to teach us and are proactive in preparing for a pandemic."

Steve Brazier says New Zealanders are not in any danger from the latest outbreak in Britain, which is only affecting birds, but warns the virus could mutate to infect humans.

He says, "For the past 18 months there has been intensive pandemic planning underway to ensure that New Zealand is as prepared as it can be. This planning culminated in the completion of the New Zealand Influenza Pandemic Action Plan (NZIPAP) which was released in September last year.  The NZIPAP was put to the test for the first time in November last year during 'Exercise Makgill', an exercise which tested the health sector's preparedness for such a catastrophic event."

And it doesn't stop there, the Ministry of Health, along with the 21 District Health Boards, 12 Public Health units, the Institute of Environmental Science and Research and most government departments will be involved in an extensive pandemic exercise over five days in May.

"Exercise Cruickshank will focus on the four pandemic stages; 'Keep it Out', 'Stamp it Out', 'Manage it' and 'Recover from it'. The Ministry of Health will lead the all of Government response from the National Crisis Management Centre which is located in the bunker under the Beehive."

"The purpose of an exercise of this type is to put our plans to the test.  To identify the problem areas so that when we do have to respond to a real pandemic event, we are better prepared to do so", says Steve Brazier.

He says the Government has large stockpiles of Tamiflu, antibiotics, masks and other pandemic supplies and the Ministry of Health will continue preparing for an influenza pandemic so the country will be as ready as it can be when a pandemic hits.

ENDS

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