The pandemic (H1N1) 2009 has been a unique public health event because it affected all countries of the Americas almost simultaneously, demanding an unprecedented response.
PAHO/WHO’s response to the outbreak focused on providing technical assistance for crisis management and coordination and surveillance and investigation of cases. It gave advice on health systems and services, information management, risk communication, and logistics, and assisted in resource mobilization by coordinating with important external partners.
Upon notification confirming an outbreak of illness from the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus associated with deaths on 23 April 2009, PAHO/WHO immediately activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC serves as PAHO’s center for strategic coordination, analysis, and decision-making during an emergency or crisis.
The PAHO/WHO Task Force met daily to report developments using situation reports and briefings with the media and other organizations. A website portal for the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 was created to ensure that technical information could be accessed as soon as it was made available.
The EOC provided point-of-contact services and improved communication with country and field offices as well as with other regional offices. It also provided the logistical support to deploy technical experts to the field and to ensure timely shipment of oseltamivir antiviral (Tamiflu), personal protective equipment and another supplies needed by countries to deal with the pandemic.
As part of its immediate response, PAHO/WHO deployed staff from several technical areas to affected countries. The first team arrived in Mexico on 24 April, the day after notification of the outbreak. The team offered advice and assistance in disaster management, epidemiology, health services, logistics, communication, and other fields. Nearly 100 experts were deployed in the region to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina and Jamaica.
PAHO/WHO monitored laboratories in Member States and provided technical support in distribution and use of diagnostic kits and other laboratory equipment. This included coordinating shipment of specimens from national laboratories to WHO Collaborating Centers. Technical documentation and manuals were written, revised, and updated. Laboratory equipment, reagents, and information on their installation were provided to Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, El Salvador, Paraguay and Dominican Republic.
Technical guidelines, documents, and tools also were distributed to PAHO/WHO field staff who were working with national authorities. In addition, an Internet-based self-learning program on pandemic (H1N1) 2009 was developed and launched.
About one million doses of the oseltamivir antiviral (tamiflu) were sourced by PAHO and distributed to all countries in the region. Personal protective equipment acquired from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was also distributed. In addition, PAHO purchased and distributed 3.5 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine.
Working with partners
PAHO’s response to the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus outbreak in the Region demanded internal mobilization of resources and expertise from all technical areas. PAHO’s strategic approach to the situation required support from key external partners, who contributed to establishing a wide and successful operations network throughout the response to the outbreak.
USAID has been a key partner for PAHO since the early stages of the outbreak. PAHO was able to secure an additional 25,000 personal protective kits from USAID which were distributed to countries from the Regional Humanitarian Response Depot based in Panama. An additional 220,000 treatments of tamiflu were loaned by USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to urgent requests made by those countries reporting the highest number of confirmed cases.