Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Faith Communities Can Prepare for Bird Flu

[Reposted from April 26 with additional links. I was impressed with the idea so I emailed this post to anyone able to spread the word.]

It's not my habit to dispatch mass emails, but in this case it is an idea that deserves spreading.

I have been following Crawford Killian's
H5N1 Blog for the last few years. News cycles have stopped headlining the threat of a bird flu pandemic but the threat remains real. Because human to human transmission of the disease remains rare, fatalities from the H5N1 strain are still statistically small, but the virus is slowly making its way through animal populations around the world.

All that stands between the disease among birds (mainly chickens) and among humans is a mutant strain that can be passed from one human to another. A human to human (H2H) mutation of this flu could be a ticking pandemic bomb depending on how severe symptoms might appear in its victims. As of this writing the
WHO has validated 381 cases worldwide which have resulted in 240 fatalities.

Concerned readers can do their own homework, but the purpose of this email is to propogate an idea that has widespread implications, not only for a possible disease pandemic but any number of widespread catastrophies. Food shortages (now in the news), natural disasters, troubles of human origin either deliberate or accidental, and regional/local events calling for a rapic outside response come to mind.

This story is from Calgary. It's about bird flu, but the implications are much bigger. The moment I saw it I envisioned a trans-denominational network of task-oriented people of faith, crossing doctrinal boundaries to close ranks in the face of possible threats. We hear a lot about "faith initiatives." and this is an excellent example.

Marg Pollon knows her particular spiritual calling can be a lonely road.

Pollon has been urging faith communities in Calgary to make plans to play important, supportive roles in battling any major global pandemic.

But when talk of bird flu or a similar medical threat disappears from the daily headlines for long stretches, such a potential disaster goes out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

"I do feel like Noah sometimes," Pollon says with a smile.

"When I talk about pandemic preparedness, peoples' eyes can glaze over."

But Pollon soldiers on, convinced that Christian churches and their congregations can carry out vital work side-by-side with medical authorities should such a modern plague land on our collective doorsteps.

"It would be a living demonstration that the Christian message is authentic," says Pollon, who runs the Bridges of Love ministry. "My goal has always been to get churches out of their buildings and into their communities."

Pollon is the key organizer of a two-day conference of pandemic preparedness, set for May 14 to 15 at Rocky Mountain College, 4039 Brentwood Rd. N.W.

She's hoping representatives of many city churches will attend to see where their congregation might fit into a master pandemic plan.

"Churches can do a lot more than offer pastoral care and host funerals," Pollon reasons. "If large numbers of people fall ill, who is going to give medications to seniors, deliver food to shut-ins and offer child care when parents are sick?

"Churches already have the internal networks and grassroots connections to their neighbourhoods. Some are set up to host people by being involved in Inn from the Cold. Others have great kitchen systems to prepare food. It's about finding your best niche."

Pollon says a key issue is getting area churches talking to each other to make sure service duplication is limited. And while a pandemic's probability remains low, its impact could be devastating.

"And if it never comes, we will have still built these networks and connections between churches and their communities," says Pollon.

"We've been lucky in Calgary in that we haven't had a lot of emergencies or disasters in recent years. But that doesn't mean it can't happen here."

More information and registration is available online at www.bridges oflove.net or by calling Pollon directly at 263-5683.

A related website is Bridges of Love.

Predictions of the impact that an influenza Pandemic would cause range from two million to over one billion deaths worldwide, over the course of several months. The associated social and economic impact would reach even further. The timing of such an upheaval cannot be predicted but from all predictions it is considered to be very likely in the next five years. This will not be something happening ‘over there’ or ‘to them’. Our families, our churches, our organizations will all be affected, in whatever country or city we live. Governments are taking action and the business sector is also taking this threat very seriously.

How could the local church assist the health authorities and government agencies? Could the church stand in the ‘gap’ and be the shining light in the community? How will the church prepare? How will Christians individually as well as the church body respond?

H5N1 again:

This from The Salt Lake Tribune describes how the Mormon network in that state is prepared to help locally in the event of any widespread need.

Assuming there is enough vaccine to go around, Garrison said there aren't enough clinics or nurses to inject it.

Instead, Garrison's plan calls for training thousands of volunteers to give their neighbors and friends shots at their local churches. The county's 300,000 residents could be vaccinated in one day and expect waits of 10 minutes, said Garrison, who was recently named a Utah Public Health Hero by the Utah Public Health Association.

"We don't want to repeat what happened in New Orleans with Katrina. Everyone learned a great deal about what can happen if you're not prepared," said Garrison, who is on the Davis County Board of Health and lives in Kaysville.

The plan, which can be implemented for other outbreaks and is being copied by other counties, would set up vaccination clinics at local churches. People who don't want to go to a church would go to county facilities.

The county's 64 emergency vaccination centers would each have 188 volunteers with 36 people giving shots at one time. Once the county got word that it was getting the vaccine, the call would go out for volunteers, who would then be trained by the Davis Applied Technology Center, Garrison said.

He has no doubt that enough volunteers will step up.

"We're very well known for volunteerism and wanting to help our neighbors with no regard to their religious affiliation," he said.

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