Companies urged to plan for H1N1 flu
Many multinational companies do not have workable plans in place for when a pandemic hits, including the possibility that H1N1 flu may change into a much more dangerous virus, health experts warned on Friday.
Dr. Myles Druckman, disease outbreak expert at International SOS, also said working out how to respond to potential outbreaks that may hit offices of a multinational company in some locations but not others was something firms needed to contend with.
“A gap for many is how can companies develop a more proportional response,” said Druckman, whose organisation has helped more than 100 Fortune 500 companies develop pandemic plans.
“For the most part outbreaks are going to be a local phenomenon. That is going to be the challenge going forward.”
About two in five employers do not have a human resources policy in place for health-related emergencies—even those with workers in areas affected by the H1N1 virus—a survey by consulting firm Mercer showed.
The survey of more than 400 mid-size and large organisations worldwide suggested that while many are starting to implement protection measures, gaps in preparedness remain.
“Business continuity plans should be standardized and employers must be able to communicate in a streamlined, swift and decisive fashion,” said Danielle Dorling, a consultant in Mercer’s HR effectiveness consulting business.
“Ad-hoc reaction can lead to confusion, unnecessary panic and expensive global inconsistencies that can expose the organisation to significant financial risk.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the first 21st century flu pandemic on Thursday and advised governments to prepare for a long-term battle against the new H1N1 flu virus.
The new flu has spread widely after emerging last April in Mexico and the United States. WHO warned the pandemic could last a year or two.
To date, 29,669 cases of H1N1 have been officially reported in 74 countries, including 145 deaths, most of them in Mexico, but the true number of infections is probably many times more.
Because the flu has been relatively mild in the first wave, Druckman said, some companies may become complacent and put their employees and business at risk in a potentially more deadly second wave of infections.
“A lot of companies did not think what is going to happen if it is mild,” he said in a telephone interview. “Some companies have scaled back their interventions.”
One move some companies have taken as a safety measure is to contract with drugmakers for future orders of GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza and Roche AG’s Tamiflu, antivirals shown to have an effect on the H1N1 virus.
Roche spokeswoman Martina Rupp said the company was ramping up Tamiflu production but in a pandemic government and WHO orders will take priority.
“We have had company orders… but at the moment government and WHO orders obviously take priority,” Rupp said, declining to name which firms had placed orders.
By Michael Kahn
LONDON (Reuters) -
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