Memorial sets up pandemic preparedness committee
By Jeff Green
It may never happen in this part of the world, but officials at Memorial University aren’t taking any chances.
Memorial is one of the first post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada to start developing a formal plan to deal with any possible outbreaks of deadly diseases such as avian influenza, more commonly known as bird flu.
Although Health Canada say the likelihood of an epidemic may be rare in this province, university representatives say they want to be “pro-active” and “diligent” in case an emergency does occur. That’s why a new committee has been struck to devise a plan to deal with the worst-case scenario.
The Pandemic Preparedness Planning Committee was established in early June. It’s made up of members from various units around the university including Student Affairs and Services, Facilities Management, Office of Research, Human Resources, Marketing and Communications and the Office of the Registrar. There are also representatives from both the Graduate Students’ Union and MUNSU and the committee plans to expand in the near future to include members from the Marine Institute and Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.
The group is developing a blueprint for how to deal with such an emergency and expects to have it ready by early fall.
“The university is being diligent, responsible and pro-active in case an unfortunate event of a pandemic nature was to occur,” said David Head, director of Memorial’s Enterprise Risk Management unit and co-chair of the new committee. Dr. Norman Lee, chief physician with Student Health Services is helping head up the group.
“In case of an emergency, we want to be prepared and to lay out exactly how we’ll be able to efficiently respond and deal with situations as they may arise,” added Mr. Head.
The new pandemic plan will be an appendix of the university’s Crisis Management Plan.
According to Health Canada, avian influenza is an infectious viral infection that primarily affects birds. It’s caused by type A strains of the influenza virus and occurs worldwide. Some avian flu viruses, such as H5N1, can, on rare occasions, cause disease in humans. Health Canada says there have been a small number of human cases of avian flu and some of those affected by the H5N1 virus have died.
Symptoms of avian flu include fever, cough, aching muscles, sore throat, eye infections and serious respiratory infections.
Mr. Head said the committee has launched a website www.mun.ca/erm/emerg that features information on the group, its mandate and links to reputable associations such as the World Health Organization.
Meanwhile, Mr. Head said Memorial’s pandemic preparedness committee is co-ordinating its response plan to be integrated with those of the provincial and federal governments, as well as the cities of St. John’s and Corner Brook if an emergency should occur.
To read more about pandemic influenza, visit the federal government’s website www.influenza.gc.ca/.