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International study no reason for complacency

13 January 2006

Hon Tony Ryall National Party Health Spokesman

International study no reason for complacency

An international study says there's a medium-level risk that New Zealand could not cope with a bird flu pandemic. Overall though, the British report rates New Zealand's pandemic risk as low.

But National Party Health spokesman Tony Ryall warns there's no room for complacency.

He is commenting on a study by risk consultancy firm Maplecroft. A global survey uses World Health Organisation data to calculate the hazards that a pandemic would pose to individual countries and regions.

The study rates New Zealand as low risk in terms of emergence within our borders, at medium risk of spread to and within New Zealand, and at medium risk of incapacity to contain an outbreak. Each of these three factors is weighted 30%, 30% and 40% respectively to make a Pandemic Risk Index.

"The report rates Australia as better able to contain an outbreak than New Zealand, though Australia is seen to be at greater risk of the spread of bird flu," says Mr Ryall.

"The good news is both Australia and New Zealand are overall in the low risk category of the Pandemic Risk Index. New Zealand has a rating of 7.7, slightly more at risk than Australia, with a rating of 9.1.

"We could still be better prepared though. We could improve our capacity to contain an outbreak. There are still major gaps in this Government's pandemic planning.

"If those gaps were sorted out, we could lower the risk even further and match Australia.

"The major gaps involve how the sick will be treated at home, supplies of essential medicines like insulin, and overall leadership.

"We don't know whether this bird flu outbreak will cause a pandemic and come to New Zealand. But flu pandemics will occur again in future as in the past, so we must be prepared. The Government must not be complacent," says Mr Ryall.


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