Schools not ready for flu crisis

By Martha McKenzie-Minifie

One in four schools is well prepared for a flu pandemic, says a study, and rural schools are least likely to have a comprehensive strategy.

Schools told the Education Review Office a shortage of pandemic kits for sale to schools was among the barriers faced in becoming fully prepared.

Uncertainty about who would pay for required supplies was also cited as an issue.

The Ministry of Health's public health director, Dr Mark Jacobs, said the ERO's report was valuable in the process of testing the planning that had been done.

Dr Jacobs said the tendency for rural schools to be less well prepared was an "important finding".

A member of the multi-agency Intersectoral Pandemic Group, Dr Jacobs said the level of risk of a flu outbreak had not decreased.

"We are going to get another influenza pandemic at some point ," he said.

"the chances of that next pandemic being caused by the current bird flu, the H5N1 ... we don't know whether that is going to happen or not."

"But the chances of that happening certainly haven't reduced."

Latest World Health Organisation figures showed 234 deaths from bird flu since 2003, of which 105 were in Indonesia.

New Zealand has not had a confirmed bird flu case.

But Dr Jacobs said if a pandemic struck, schools could be closed to slow the spread.

"There's also issues over how to minimise the chance that the virus would spread within a school - so basic hygiene and making sure the children and staff know about covering up sneezes, washing their hands with soap."

The ERO last year evaluated the quality of pandemic planning in 230 schools, or almost 10 per cent of state schools.

Its report found 71 per cent of schools had reviewed their emergency supplies kits and 64 per cent had reviewed cleaning policies, supplies and practices.

Almost all schools had appointed a pandemic manager, and two-thirds had developed plan on how to deal with a pandemic.

* EPIDEMIC PLANS:

9 per cent of schools are yet to take steps

66 per cent are taking steps

25 per cent are well prepared

Source: Education Review Office

- NZ Herald

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