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August 17, 2005

What Are We Waiting For?Fragments From Floyd

In the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, the mortality rate was 3 percent, which seems merciful in comparison with the 50 percent mortality rate of today's highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu. In just the past 18 months, avian flu has caused the death or destruction of more than 140 million birds in 11 Asian nations. And, most alarming, in four of those nations, H5N1 has taken the worried jump from birds to infect humans.

Should the virus shift and human-to-human transmission become sustained, the cost in human lives could be substantial -- especially when vaccine would not become available, at best, until six to nine months after the outbreak of a pandemic. And even then, the vaccine would not be available to every American. Nor do we have enough of the only effective anti-viral agent Tamiflu stockpiled to treat more than 1 percent of our population.

To meet this threat, I propose an unprecedented effort -- a "Manhattan Project for the 21st century" -- not with the goal of creating a destructive new weapon, but to defend against destruction wreaked by infectious diseases such as H5N1 and biological weapons.

Such a project would include substantial increases in support for fundamental research, medical education, emergency capacity and public health infrastructure; the unleashing of the private sector and unprecedented collaboration among government and industry and academia; and the creation of secure stores of treatments and vaccines and vast networks of distribution.

But, above all, I speak of action -- without excuses, without exceptions -- with the goal of protecting every American and the capability to help protect the people of the world.

Many benefits other than survival would follow in train. We will come to understand diseases that we do not now understand and find the cures for diseases that we cannot now cure. It will add to the economy both a potent principle of organization and a stimulus like war, but war's opposite in effect. It will power the productive life of the country into new fields, transforming the information age with unexpected rapidity into the biotechnical age that is to come. Recombinomicsquotes Senator Bill Frist

t's concerns and hopes for fighting infectious disease, from a speech delivered at Harvard Medical School, June 2005, can be read here.

Posted by dymaxion at August 17, 2005 02:23 PM

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