Training: To test and validate the updated National Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plan (NIPPP), a four-day simulation exercise is being conducted at the Technical Training Institute in Khuruthang, Punakha. It began yesterday.

Funded by the centre for disease control, USA and World Health Organisation, the simulation exercise is being conducted for the second time in the country. The first one was held in Phuentsholing in 2010.

Programme officer of the communicable disease division, Department of Public Health, Rinzin Kinga Jamtsho said it is a field simulation exercise to test human health preparedness and the response capacity to the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak in humans.

He said the objective of the exercise is to sensitise participants on the updated NIPPP and test the plan accordingly. It is also to test the effectiveness of the coordination and institutional arrangement laid in the plan.

Health officials said there are many public health emergencies in the world including Ebola in Africa, MERS in the Middle East and avian influenza like H5N1, H7N9 and H10N8 in Asian countries.

He explained that the viruses keep changing their subtypes through genetic re-assortment and with every change of their sub-types, it becomes new to general population, whereby immunity is lacking and illness or death can occur.

Since people move across the globe at a faster rate, today, the diseases of such nature can easily be spread at a faster rate than one can detect. Therefore, it isn’t safe to say that such viruses (if there’s any) cannot come to Bhutan, it was pointed out.

The health officer said although H1N1 is very much endemic in the country, people have immunity towards it. “However, if virus like H10N8 or MERS-COV is spread in Bhutan, we may not have immunity to it, which means it might cause havoc,” he said.

“Therefore, we are stepping up preparedness, for which National influenza pandemic preparedness plan (NIPPP) has been developed in 2009, and updated in 2013, and again updated recently this year,” said the programme officer, Rinzin Kinga Jamtsho.

Through the simulation exercise, they will assess gaps and validate the plan to make it simple and practical.

They are creating scenarios to enable health officials to validate the NIPPP, said health officials. A simulated plan in place would mean responding to pandemics effectively without delay and confusion during times of such emergencies.

The department also plans to conduct mock-drills in hospitals and basic health units across the country to step up preparedness in times to come.

Around 65 participants are attending the simulation exercise.

The participants were mostly from high-risk areas like the southern dzonkhags, and Wangdue and Punakha.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue