Canada's health minister announces $10.8M to fight swine flu
Last Updated: Friday, June 5, 2009 | 2:52 PM ET
Research is critical in the battle to fight swine flu, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Friday in Toronto as she announced $10.8 million for new pandemic initiatives.
"Thanks to far-sighted investments and lessons learned from the SARS crisis, Canada's research community is well-prepared to deal with this issue," Aglukkaq told a news conference at Mount Sinai hospital.
The government is funding a new influenza network — a partnership between the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada — to better connect researchers with public health officials.
The network, which will receive $10.8 million over three years, will focus on developing and evaluating flu vaccines.
"This work will help answer questions such as what makes an effective vaccine, are these new vaccines safe, will they work," said Aglukkaq.
Led by Dr. Scott Halpern of Dalhousie University in Halifax, the network will involve 80 scientists at 30 research institutions across Canada.
The government is also funding two other research initiatives:
- Dr. Guy Boivin at Université Laval and his team will work with a national team to study the genetic code of swine flu, with a focus on how the virus changes over time, including its susceptibility to antiviral drugs.
- Dr. Babak Pourbohloul at the University of British Columbia and his team will create mathematical models to quickly determine how the virus spreads through the population.
"These projects will have huge benefits …. They will help public health officials across Canada in their efforts to plan, design and evaluate interventions to control the spread of the virus and protect the health of Canadians," said Aglukkaq.
Her announcement came a day after swine flu was confirmed in two residents of the remote Manitoba community of St. Theresa Point First Nation, located about 500 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
The two people and 19 others with flu-like symptoms from the community of 3,200 people are currently in hospital in Winnipeg. In all, 200 people from the reserve have reported being ill in the past week, with the majority of them being treated in the community.
Severity of illness
Also on Friday, the World Health Organization said its committee of influenza experts has agreed that a statement on severity of disease should be included in any future declarations of a pandemic.
WHO has faced pressure from several countries to add severity to its criteria for declaring a flu pandemic. Currently, the decision is based geographic spread of the virus, not how many people fall seriously ill or die.
"There was a broad consensus on the importance of including information on severity in future announcements," the agency said in a statement.
WHO's pandemic scale remains at its second-highest level, phase 5 on a scale of 1 to 6. To move to phase 6, the agency needs to confirm sustained spread of the virus in one country outside of North America, where swine flu first appeared in Mexico in April.
The agency has followed the committee's advice when its previously raised the alert level.
WHO director-general Margaret Chan also decided to follow the committee's advice asking countries to:
- Step up surveillance of unusual oubreaks of influenza-like illnesses and severe pneumonia.
- Not close borders or restrict international travel.
- Continue producing seasonal flu vaccine, which could be re-evaluated.
As of June 3, 1,795 laboratory-confirmed cases of swine flu, also known as H1N1 flu virus, have been reported in nine provinces and three territories in Canada.
The virus has been spreading in North America and elsewhere. It has infected 21,940 people in 69 countries, killing 125, WHO reported Friday.
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