Avian Flu: What we have learned from SARS
By Mike Sawchuk President & General Manager, Enviro-Solutions | October 28, 2008
In November 1997, a terrorist attack in the ancient city of Luxor, Egypt, took the lives of sixty-eight people and left scores more injured. However, the deaths and injuries caused by the attack were just the beginning of the problems it caused Egypt. Tourism, the lifeblood of the country, went into a tailspin, resulting in mass numbers of hotel- and restaurant-related workers losing their jobs in a country that already has chronic high unemployment.
A few months later, realizing just how much the incident was affecting business and the economy, Egypt started a $4 billion marketing campaign to woo visitors back. In addition, they dramatically stepped up security throughout the most visited sections of the country. In fact, ten years later, a recent visitor to Egypt told me that armed guards are just about everywhere in the most traveled sections of the country and are often found riding with visitors on travel buses, which are often followed by police and army cars as well.
In effect, the country is still reeling from the incident and its impact on the tourist industry. Just imagine what would happen if something even more serious were to happen in Egypt or any other country in the world-such as the spread of H5N1 avian flu.
It seems that concerns and news stories about avian flu come and go, and in recent months we have not heard that much about the disease. According to one of the latest studies conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in Washington, D.C., a consulting firm dealing primarily with health-related issues, the "man on the street" is only "somewhat" interested or concerned about the spread of the disease.
However, this same belief is not held by scores of public health officials worldwide. According to a recent article in The New York Times, these officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the disease, not less, and point to the fact that the number of people who have died from avian flu, now estimated at nearly 150 people, is continuing to grow.
Interestingly, the same study questioned senior executives at 179 companies about avian flu and its potential impact on their companies and the world economy. Although high numbers agreed that if H5N1 were to spread to humans on a large scale it could seriously negatively impact their companies, 66 percent responded that they had "no plans" to protect their companies. In effect, even though these executives have been warned that the spread of the disease is a growing possibility, they have decided to treat it like a terrorist attack, believing there is not much they can do but pick up the pieces afterward.