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Health protection is a global issue – and there are lessons to learn and share from all incidents, wherever they occur. That was the message from the global health protection workshop at FPH’s annual conference in Cardiff on 19 July.

Delegates heard how the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has built a worldwide reputation for its work, in part because the global nature of health protection means that planning needs to go beyond national borders. The World Health Organisation has 10 collaborating centres in the UK, while the HPA has sent teams on international secondments to South Africa, India and Australia. One of the speakers talked about how the HPA had been involved in giving high-level advice to government agencies after the earthquake and nuclear power failure in Fukushima.

Closer to home, the delegates heard from Dr Sarah Finlay about how she and her colleagues from the charity Festival Medical Services dealt with an outbreak of H1N1 at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. The festival had a population of 135,000 ticket holders, and 35,000 artists and staff, many of whom were the kind of healthy, young people most likely to contract the virus. The infrastructure of the event meant that living conditions were poor. People’s behaviour, as would be expected at a music festival, was not typical. The combined circumstances meant that it was easy for communicable diseases to transfer.

Risk was mitigated by following the protocols for managing H1N1, having immediate access to antiviral stocks and good transport to the onsite medical facilities, despite the mud. Good advice was given to festival goers before, during and after the festival, stressing the ‘Catch It. Kill It. Bin It.’ message and the importance of using the hand gels that were available across the site.

Information was circulated via the Glastonbury festival website, music press and general media. Just as the HPA team working on Fukushima had regular updates throughout each day to share information, so the Glastonbury health team relied on situation updates three times each day.

There were six cases of swine ‘flu at Glastonbury in 2009, all of which were confirmed by laboratory test results and each of whom left the site for further treatment. One of these cases was a 16-year old girl who had been sharing a tepee with 12 other people, each of whom had to be tracked down in the chaos of festival life.

In the circumstances, the team felt the outbreak had been well managed, and the lessons learnt from this example of mass gathering medicine were shared with the organisers of the Berlin World Athletics and the Hadj.

Dr Finlay summed up by saying that the success of the festival’s approach to H1N1 was due to having a well thought-through approach, early detection, awareness of the issue and by sharing the lessons learnt.

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