Experts examine nations’ responses to H1N1 outbreak

Nick Mehendale

Both the United States and China failed in their responses to the 2009 outbreak of H1N1, said a health and security expert at the LBJ School of Public Affairs on Monday. Yanzhong Huang, director of global health studies at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations, addressed the global response to the outbreak. He has written about global health governance, health security and public health in China and East Asia for BusinessWeek, The Washington Post and The Associated Press. “There is no silver bullet when it comes to fighting a pandemic,” Huang said. “A country can either contain the virus and quarantine the people that are affected or mitigate the disease by slowing down the spread of the virus by only treating those who are severely ill. China very aggressively used quarantines to fight the spread, while the U.S. focused on vaccines, as most did.” The way a country handles an outbreak poses a test to humanity’s response to a pandemic on a global level, Huang said. “Both China and the U.S. failed their tests,” Huang said. “While China used the matter to shore up the legitimacy of the regime and achieve greater social and political stability, the U.S. offered vaccines to underdeveloped countries that they ultimately didn’t deliver on. Politicalization of public health problems can lead a country to pursue a political agenda that does not address the needs or concerns of others.” Almost all policy issues have some international component, said Diana Newton, a senior fellow at the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University. “With the spread of these diseases, we should see how different countries can come together across borders to prevent terrible things from happening,” Newton said. Molecular genetics and microbiology professor Shelley Payne said today is an important time to understand the way diseases are spread and their implications. “This subject is becoming increasingly important,” Payne said. “A growing number of diseases are becoming drug resistant, and we don’t have a vaccine for many of them. We can’t prevent what we don’t understand.” Payne said it is important to critically look at the spread of disease. “When diseases spill over from other regions of the world, we have to be ready to deal with them, which many times we are not,” she said.