Pandemic Preventions

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In recent years, the global spread of avian influenza has been considered a major pandemic threat. By 2003, it had evolved into a virus strain that infects more species than any previously known flu virus strain.

For this reason, countries around the world rushed to mobilize. They formulated detailed preparedness plans, established surveillance systems, equipped laboratories, and trained public health workers.

Few Latin American countries, however, were prepared to respond to an outbreak.

“In the case of Nicaragua, there had never existed a diagnostic lab that focused on that specific disease,” said Dr. Angel Balmaceda, Director of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health’s Department of Virology. “It was important to know the experience of each country and how they planned to tackle the situation.”

For that reason, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health agreed to call for a meeting where all the countries of Central America would share what they had done to respond to the threat of avian flu.

Unfortunately, gathering high-level officials from all these countries would have been a prohibitively expensive and complex undertaking.

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APPROACH

With GDLN’s help, Nicaragua rapidly convenes top regional officials 

To execute the meeting, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health turned to the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN)

“The goal of the meeting was basically to contrast, discuss, and share each country’s national prevention and control plans for avian flu,” said Ileana Orozco, the GDLN Representative in Nicaragua, who organized the event for the Ministry of Health.

In May 2005, GDLN hosted top-level officials from throughout Latin America, the Dominican Republic, Washington DC, and Switzerland, including representatives from the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization.

Orozco coordinated with her peers at other connecting GDLN centers to make sure everyone benefited. Specifically, that meant following a strict agenda that permitted each expert or official to share in turn, and leveraging technology—including Powerpoint presentations—to enable participants to get their messages across.

“There’s a whole methodology, expertise, and synergy, as well as a group of experts in the use of distance learning. And that’s the great value-added that we offer,” she added. “It’s all of the experience we’ve accrued on how to encourage a global dialogue, how to achieve development, and how to achieve that true knowledge exchange,” said Orozco.

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In attendance was Maribel Orozco Perez, the Director of Epidemiological Surveillance for Nicaragua’s Ministry of Health: “There was outstanding organization at every level, an excellent coordination between the coordinators of the event here and those in other countries. The organization was excellent.”

This is nothing new for GDLN’s Orozco, who is one of more than 100 representatives at GDLN centers around the world who oversee the design of learning programs. In this case, Orozco ensured that the dialogue proceeded efficiently, integrating all the high-level officials, and ensuring that the expansive group of almost 150 participants achieved their goals.

“How do we do it?” Orozco asked rhetorically. “Through our know-how and our network of contacts. So we have evolved from being nothing more than a tool for the technological use of videoconferencing to satisfying a knowledge demand.”

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RESULTS

The GDLN dialogue spurs regional preparedness on avian flu: Nicaragua institutes a national surveillance network

The program led directly to rapid progress in a number of countries as they established national surveillance networks. In Nicaragua, the results were immediate.

“This produced positive outcomes, since we now have a national network of laboratories that we coordinate,” said Balmaceda. “There is already a much more efficient surveillance of the disease in place than before.”

Alfredo Missair, the UNDP’s Resident Representative in Nicaragua, said the program promoted an initial commitment between senior political authorities that he had never before witnessed in his career.

“I believe we are in the middle of a revolution in the way we do business,” enthused Missair, “through a network like the GDLN that opens a much richer, direct, and practical work perspective with the capacity of facilitating a coordination that we have never had before.”

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The Global Development Learning Network (www.gdln.org) is a partnership of over 120 centers in 80 countries that offer solutions to the knowledge and learning needs of clients around the world.

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