But this year has been different. The Mexican disease surveillance system, a network of more than 11,000 hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices, picked up a minor but troubling trend in April. Across this nation of 110 million people, a handful of young adults had apparently died from influenza. An immediate investigation led, within a few hectic weeks, to the isolation and full genetic sequencing of the microbe causing the illness. The experts’ worst fear was confirmed: it was a new kind of influenza virus.
Some have complained that the Mexican government did not act fast enough to identify this new bug and sound the alarm. But such criticism fails to take into account the real-life complexity of recognizing and responding to an unexpected public health emergency.
As a former minister of health for Mexico, I met with Mexican officials this week to consult with them on their response to the influenza, and I was impressed by how medical scientists in the country quickly perceived the unusual trend of illness against a background of standard flu and then analyzed the virus and alerted global health authorities. Their fast action gave other countries the warning they needed to screen for the new virus, which is why cases of swine flu have already been discovered in a dozen other countries — cases that might otherwise have long gone unnoticed.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Mexico's ex-Health Minister Says Mexico Handled It Well
Julio Frenk, who of course has a somewhat biased point of view, hails the Mexican response to flu outbreak: