By Australian Medical Association, [RxPG] AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, today called on the Government to do more to involve GPs in the planning for a national response to a possible flu pandemic.
Dr Haikerwal said reports yesterday that the Australian Sentinel Practice Research Network (ASPREN) is underfunded and struggling show that the flu pandemic response is failing before it has even started.
ASPREN is a network of unpaid volunteer GPs mainly in NSW and SA who act as an early warning system for evidence of influenza, including bird flu, and other diseases, but the number of volunteer GPs has dropped to 51 from 110 in 1994.
Things are going too slow with the pandemic response strategy and it is irresponsible not to include the GP population in response planning from day one, Dr Haikerwal said.
As the Governments neglect of ASPREN shows, Australia is totally unprepared in the key area of bio-surveillance, if the concerns raised by the AMA are not addressed.
If we are to repel the flu pandemic threat, Australia needs a national bio surveillance system.
The first step is to revitalise ASPREN by extending the network of GPs across all States and Territories and provide the specialised training and support to allow early detection of health threats.
This will require the involvement of the AMA.
There must also be sophisticated communication networks to facilitate rapid alerts, laboratory support, and centralised data collection systems, Dr Haikerwal said.
Dr Haikerwal said the Government has had plenty of time to establish a system that could activate a flu pandemic response strategy. In 2002 and 2003, the AMA alerted the Government that the national bio surveillance capacity was insufficient to deal with a possible SARS outbreak.
The Government must heed the lessons learnt from the threats presented by the SARS outbreak. They must act now and fast, Dr Haikerwal said.