Highlight: Dr David Butler-Jones on fighting pandemics

April 15, 2016

Dr David Butler-Jones, professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba and former Chief Medical Health Officer of Canada, delivered a lecture on lessons learned from the 2009 flu pandemic in Canada. He also commented on India’s draft National Health Policy 2015 at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on February 10, 2015. His talk was part of IDRC's Asia Regional Office distinguished lecture series. 

While explaining the context of four major pandemics – Influenza, Asian flu, Hong Kong flu, and Spanish flu – Butler-Joneshighlighted the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic in Canada. He said that using the strategic approach of “what do we know, what do we not know, what can we do to change the situation” is effective in containing pandemics. He emphasized the need to build a structure of public health networks and network councils, flexible planning, sharing of information, and collaboration with stakeholders, and pointed out that identifying critical success stories can help fight pandemics.

Butler-Jones noted that India's draft National Policy a comprehensive document, focused on issues of primary health care, health promotion, and disease prevention, as well as the enhancement of services in rural areas, regulatory and equitable access to care, and medicines for all. Defining public health as public good, he noted that governments do not take public health seriously until there is a pandemic.

In the context of developing countries, Butler-Jones drew attention to the importance of public healthcare teams of doctors and paramedics, data, and accreditation standards in identifying appropriate interventions. There is a need to explore the public-private nexus, traditional medicines, and public health management skills training, he said, as well as using research as a strategic tool. Effective partnerships and strategies are required between intersectoral and private institutions, he said, recommending that countries prioritize research findings and work with target communities to find solutions. To conclude, Butler-Jones said that funds allocated to health were an indicator of a nation's priorities. A proportionately enhanced investment in health can help ensure strong health plans and effective responses to potential pandemics.