Public Health Policy and Experience of the 2009 H1N1 Influenza Pandemic in Pune, India

Document Type: Original Article

Authors

1 The Maharashtra Association of Anthropological Sciences, Centre for Health Research and Development, Pune, India

2 Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India

3 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Basel, Switzerland

4 University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland

5 Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

Abstract

Background
Prior experience and the persisting threat of influenza pandemic indicate the need for global and local preparedness and public health response capacity. The pandemic of 2009 highlighted the importance of such planning and the value of prior efforts at all levels. Our review of the public health response to this pandemic in Pune, India, considers the challenges of integrating global and national strategies in local programmes and lessons learned for influenza pandemic preparedness.
 
Methods
Global, national and local pandemic preparedness and response plans have been reviewed. In-depth interviews were undertaken with district health policy-makers and administrators who coordinated the pandemic response in Pune.
 
Results
In the absence of a comprehensive district-level pandemic preparedness plan, the response had to be improvised. Media reporting of the influenza pandemic and inaccurate information that was reported at times contributed to anxiety in the general public and to widespread fear and panic. Additional challenges included inadequate public health services and reluctance of private healthcare providers to treat people with flu-like symptoms. Policy-makers developed a response strategy that they referred to as the Pune plan, which relied on powers sanctioned by the Epidemic Act of 1897 and resources made available by the union health ministry, state health department and a government diagnostic laboratory in Pune.
 
Conclusion
The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) global strategy for pandemic control focuses on national planning, but state-level and local experience in a large nation like India shows how national planning may be adapted and implemented. The priority of local experience and requirements does not negate the need for higher level planning. It does, however, indicate the importance of local adaptability as an essential feature of the planning process. Experience and the implicit Pune plan that emerged are relevant for pandemic preparedness and other public health emergencies.

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