Few things hold the power to stop the global economy in its tracks. A pandemic is one of them. In addition to the high human costs of suffering, pandemics can stop travel and commerce and create political tension. With globalization and the ease of international travel, the potential for pandemics to spread quickly and widely is greater than ever before. H1N1, commonly referred to as the swine flu, has proven relatively mild in terms of severity, but has spread faster than any previously known influenza. Envision an influenza with high mortality, such as avian flu, spreading at this speed. The prospects are frightening.
Tackling pandemics effectively requires four things – good science, good business, international cooperation, and public awareness. The H1N1 pandemic provides a useful test run for how prepared we are and, while we didn’t fail the test, we were fortunate the virus has proven mild to date. While the virus was identified relatively quickly, a vaccine was slow in coming and governments were moderately effective in coordinating their responses. The media, while at times alarmist, generally did a good job in keeping people informed. But the H1N1 episode made it clear we need to put into place better processes to be able to move more quickly when the next pandemic strikes.