The Role of Influenza in Facing COVID-19By Miriam Bello | Wed, 08/05/2020 - 12:31
COVID-19 is a new disease that still needs much research in its composition and effects on the human body. However, past experiences can serve to better face the current crisis.
In 2009, Mexico faced the A H1N1 influenza pandemic. Its effects on the healthcare system and on lifestyle meant a significant change that served as a starting point when COVID-19 arrived. To understand the relation between both pandemics, MBN talked to Guillermo Domínguez Cherit, current Deputy Director of the Critical Medicine Area at INCMNSZ and member of the group of professionals that alongside the Minister of Health, developed care guidelines for patients suffering from A H1N1. “In a way, A H1N1 gave us knowledge on how to manage a pandemic. We knew how to adapt the hospital bed capacity as we had already managed a virus outbreak,” said Domínguez Cherit. The main difference between then and now is the level of connectivity and access to information. “On the one hand, this is favorable for the medical community because we are able to share information and experience quickly and more graphically. Also, this allows for teleconsultations to avoid further contagion. On the other hand, it also opens a window for misinformation or fake news,” he said.
The influenza pandemic also served as the basis for the creation of regional strategies between Mexico and its commercial partners the US and Canada to create an effective coalition regarding health security. The North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza (NAPAPI), launched by US President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the North American Leaders Summit (NALS) in April 2012, provides a comprehensive, regional and cross-sectoral, health security framework that intends to strengthen the emergency response capacities, as well as trilateral collaborations and capabilities for countries to assist each other and ensure a quick and coordinated response to influenza outbreaks.
Under the current circumstances, bilateral relations and initiatives like NAPAPI are key. Mexico has been very active on seeking and exploiting its foreign relationships with other counties to improve its chances against the pandemic. Examples include the country’s current announcement regarding its participation in Sanofi’s COVID-19 vaccine trial and the acquisition of Hamilton’s ventilators from the US. However, the elephant in the room is still vaccine access. While the northern neighbor has secured millions of doses for its citizens, potential for cooperation is still under a spotlight. Beyond Mexico and the US’ shared border and the recent implementation of USMCA, former programs such as NAPAPI showed the importance of cooperation between countries. According to a report made by the Pacific Council, “the US and Mexico reaffirmed the importance of NAPAPI in January 2019 and it is being employed by health and foreign ministries in the US and Mexico as a channel of communication.” This strong base for regional cooperation has not been revisited, however.