Health protocols evaluated
In response to the international outbreak of swine flu, the UH Health Law and Policy Institute held a summit Wednesday to discuss legal issues surrounding the outbreak and bring together various state and public health officials in hopes of establishing a communication network.’
‘We have people with all sorts of interests who may have problems and issues in common or that relate to each other,’ Seth Chandler, co-director of the UH Health Law and Policy Institute said. ‘I would like people speaking to each other, trying to identify some of the key legal and other issues that are likely to be confronted in the weeks ahead, and to establish basically the beginnings of a network.’
On the same day the first U.S. swine flu death was reported out of Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital, the summit focused on explicating the strengths and weaknesses of Texas health law.
Patricia Gray, special assistant for health policy and advisory board member of the UH Health Law and Policy Institute, explained the differences between federal, state and local functions in a federal health emergency.’
‘In Texas, the Communicable Disease Prevention and Control Act ‘hellip; establishes the control measures that may be used in response to a communicable disease outbreak,’ Gray said. ‘The response can range from immunization to quarantine.’
Local health authorities are responsible for reporting outbreaks to federal and state officials. These local authorities have the power to prohibit or limit public assembly to help combat the spread of disease.
In Texas, the first step is for the government to issue a public health disaster proclamation, which Gov. Rick Perry did on Wednesday.
‘In addition, the commissioner of the Department of Health Services, Dr. (David L.) Lakey, must find that there exists an immediate threat from a communicable disease,’ Gray said. ‘Lakey has not issued that finding yet.’
Weaknesses in Texas health law include its lack of testing on a large scale, as well as lack of mechanisms to deal with those who refuse quarantine, Gray said. Its strengths include Texas’ experience with disasters, extensive planning and the many legal tools available.
‘We’ve got a real challenge ahead of us. We’ve got a law that has not been used terribly much and that law better be found to be scalable ‘hellip; and it needs to be adaptable,’ Chandler said.
UH President Renu Khator released a University wide e-mail Tuesday stating that administrators are monitoring the swine flu situation and encouraging all students, faculty and staff to remain calm and practice preventative hygiene.
So far, swine flu has spread from Mexico to the U.S., Canada, Israel, New Zealand and Australia and countries in Western Europe.
CNN reported that the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to a 5 on the 6-point scale Wednesday, indicating that all countries should immediately activate pandemic-preparedness plans.