Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Another doctor in the House

As we're hearing of Canada's lagging behind the U.S. in H1N1 vaccine distribution, i.e., the U.S. is starting to vaccinate, we're maybe two months away and could be vaccinating too late...a little item caught my eye in developments today, mentioned here. Noted in the new critic positions, Kirsty Duncan has been appointed to the Public Health critic role. And looky here at who is an expert in pandemic flus:
From 1993 to 2000, Duncan taught meteorology, climatology, and climate change at the University of Windsor. In 1992, as she became increasingly aware of the increasing probability of a global flu crisis, she was led to investigate the cause of the similar 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, saying, "I was horrified we didn’t know what caused [Spanish flu], and also knew that if we could find fragments of the virus, we might be able to find a better flu vaccine"

Though at the time she "knew nothing about influenza", she began what she called a "six-month crash course in virology”. Eventually, she began searching for possible frozen samples of lung and brain tissue that might contain the virus. Her initial thoughts led her to think of Alaska, as it contains large areas of permafrost, which would leave the viruses intact, but the search proved fruitless.

Eventually, after several years of searching, Duncan learned of seven miners who had died from the Spanish flu and were buried in the small town of Longyearbyen, Norway, an area that would contain permafrost. She then began assembling a team of scientists to accompany her. After several more years of preparation, which involved garnering various permissions to perform the exhumations, the ground survey began in 1998. However, the samples were not viable, as the bodies were not in the permafrost, and the expedition was ultimately proved a disappointment.

In 2003, Duncan wrote a book about her expedition, entitled Hunting the 1918 Flu: One Scientist's Search for a Killer Virus. Published by the University of Toronto Press, it details Duncan's process and the expedition itself. After the book's publication, Duncan began speaking about pandemics, which led her to begin teaching corporate social responsibility at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. In 2008, Duncan published a second book, Environment and Health: Protecting our Common Future.
Not bad. Who knew that as H1N1 rolls in, we have an expert in our midst. Meanwhile, we're treated to Aglukkaq as Health Minister, who is sowing headlines such as these: "Docs sound alarm over pandemic plan," "Testing on Canadian H1N1 vaccine delayed," "H1N1 diagnosis: Confusion, frustration, anxiety." Adding Duncan to the mix is part of distinguishing the calibre of the Liberal bench from the Conservative team of bunglers. It's a big selling point that needs to be pushed more. Duncan should be given face time publicly to underscore the contrast.

On the politics of these critic announcements today, this was a smart quick move on the unity front to tamp out the nonsense being spewed by mischief making Conservatives about defections. The Liberal message is being honed into three parts, public health, ethics and the economy. That structure was in Ignatieff's non-confidence speech last week and it seems to be playing out in those expanded critic roles announced today. Hammering three main areas on a daily basis, in a more economized structure, keeping it simpler...good idea.