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Cook Islands enhances its ability to respond to avian and pandemic influenza threats
Written by Christelle Lepers   
Friday, 08 August 2008

ImageA series of workshops on infection control and exercises to test avian and pandemic influenza preparedness just took place in Rarotonga from Wednesday 23 July to Friday 1 August 2008. These initiatives aim to increase Cook Islands’ readiness for avian and pandemic influenza events and other threats of infectious diseases.

‘The Pacific Islands, including the Cook Islands, are at risk of avian and pandemic influenza, like other parts of the world,’ says Dr Roro Daniel, Secretary of Health, Cook Islands. ‘Considering the limited resources shared by most Pacific Island countries and territories, it is critical that we test components of our pandemic preparedness plan and refine our capacity to effectively respond to these threats.’

Dr Seini Kupu, Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Specialist at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), says, ‘Although avian influenza is principally a disease of poultry, the H5N1 strain of the avian influenza virus has been confirmed as infecting humans. And out of the total confirmed human cases, about 60 per cent of them have died. It is possible that the H5N1 strain that is circulating around the world could become easily transmissible from one person to another, and if that occurs, there is a very high possibility of a global influenza pandemic.

‘Some countries that are our very close neighbours, especially Indonesia, are already experiencing significant avian influenza outbreaks and have the highest human avian influenza infections case fatality rate of about 80 per cent, according to WHO [this means that for every 100 infected persons with H5N1, about 80 have died]. The disease could reach our shores.

‘Pandemic influenza is a serious threat. We should not forget that the 1918 influenza pandemic proved devastating to several Pacific Island countries and territories, killing around 22–25 per cent of the population in Samoa and Tahiti, 6 per cent in Tonga, 16 per cent in Nauru and 5 per cent in Fiji and Guam.’

The Cook Islands Ministries of Health and Agriculture and other sectors, together with SPC, are collaborating on preparation for the workshop and the testing exercises. The first two days of the infection control workshop will be dedicated to health-care workers, and the third day is for non-health-sector personnel, including animal health-care workers, border control teams, and representatives from the Red Cross and other community groups.

According to Mrs Margaret Leong, Infection Control Specialist at SPC, ‘The application of strict infection control measures, such as regular hand-washing, play a vital role in the prevention and control of infectious diseases like influenza. These measures can be applied by anyone, not only those who work in the agriculture and health sectors.’

The infection control workshop was followed by a testing exercise involving mainly health-care workers and other relevant sectors, and consisted of responding to a scenario that prompted the activation of a community-based assessment centre (CBAC) and the setting-up of an isolation area at the hospital for management of flu-like illness (where cases were treated as pandemic influenza patients).

‘These activities will help the Cook Islands to be better prepared for the rapid detection of and early response to any future disease outbreaks of significant magnitude or public health threats,’ stresses Dr Kupu. ‘They strengthen the health sector response and prepare the community for situations – such as pandemic influenza – where the impacts may be very serious, and assist in minimising the potential health and socioeconomic impacts.’

The exercises are being conducted under the Pacific Regional Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Project (PRIPPP), which has been implemented in the Pacific region since 2006 by SPC in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with financial assistance from AusAID and NZAID.

For more information, please contact:  Christelle Lepers, Surveillance Information Officer at SPC (email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ), Raiata Heather, Chief Public Health Nurse at Cook Islands Ministry of Health
C/o Cook Islands Ministry of Health – Tel.: (682) 22664 (Hospital), (682) 29110 (Public Health)

Background information

PRIPPP, which was initiated in 2006 by SPC in collaboration with WHO, OIE and FAO under the framework of the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN), aims to further improve the capacity of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) to effectively and efficiently respond to emerging diseases, in particular highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and pandemic influenza. It involves animal health and human health services and has been developed in response to PICTs’ needs.

In practical terms, PRIPPP provides support to PICTs in such areas as developing and testing preparedness plans, infection control, rapid containment, laboratory capacity, legal issues, national risk communication strategies, and stockpiling essential drugs and materials.

PRIPPP is a four-year, AUD 10.5 million project funded by AusAID and NZAID. It involves both animal and human health sectors and covers all 22 Pacific Island members of SPC.

Last Updated ( Friday, 08 August 2008 )