Improved pandemic preparedness was top of mind for the three leaders of North America when they met last week for the 10th North American Leaders’ Summit (NALS) in Mexico City. Released by the White House on Jan. 10 following the meeting of US president Joe Biden, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Declaration of North America (DNA), which aims to ensure the well-being of the three countries, focuses on six key “pillars,” including health.
The Health pillar of the DNA will involve updating the current North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza (NAPAPI) “to improve prevention, preparedness, agility, and to provide rapid response to health emergencies in North America,” according to the DNA statement.
While no timeline for the launch of the updated plan has been announced, the changes aim to make the NAPAPI “a flexible, scalable, and cross-sectoral platform” to better prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics and other “health security threats,” according to the DNA. Building “resilient health systems,” which includes a focus on adequate healthcare staffing, will be another priority for the updated plan.
The current plan, which was launched in 2012 and incorporates lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, complements each North American country’s national emergency management plan and offers, according to a Government of Canada website, a “policy framework” so the three countries can better collaborate and coordinate their pandemic prevention, mitigation, and response efforts, with a focus on:
- Detecting, monitoring, and controlling flu outbreaks as well as limiting animal-to-human, human-to-animal, and human-to-human transmission
- Communication “among relevant authorities”
- Stopping or mitigating the entry of new human flu strains into North America
- Minimizing illness and deaths
- Minimizing economic and social impact, as well as sustaining infrastructure
According to the Canadian summary of the current NAPAPI, the plan “addresses both animal and public health issues including early notification and surveillance, joint outbreak investigation, epidemiology, laboratory practices, medical countermeasures, personnel sharing, and public health measures.” However, while improved plans are all well and good, according to some sources, there wasn’t much evidence that North American governments actually followed the existing NAPAPI during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Though the plan addresses a flu rather than coronavirus pandemic, the framework it provides is still applicable to both, experts said. While the inclusion of a commitment to an improved pandemic prevention and response plan in the NDA is an important step, time, and the next pandemic, will tell if it actually makes a difference.