WASHINGTON, April 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Acknowledging that pandemics happen and require a strong local response, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Karleen K. Jackson and Deputy Secretary Alex Azar of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today addressed federal, state and local public health officials and business and community leaders about pandemic flu preparedness. "Pandemics are global in nature, but their effects are always local, so I am pleased that Governor Murkowski is taking a leadership role to prepare Alaska for this threat," Deputy Secretary Azar said. "Pandemic planning needs to address how schools, businesses, public agencies, faith-based organizations and others participate in pandemic preparedness. With this meeting, local officials can identify needs specific to Alaska communities and begin crucial coordination to assure readiness if a pandemic outbreak strikes." Deputy Secretary Azar is in Alaska as part of a national tour of states, as the federal government prepares the country for a potential influenza pandemic. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services sponsored the summit in Anchorage. "A flu pandemic could present particularly difficult challenges for Alaska because our state depends on a transportation infrastructure and suppliers far from our local communities for everything from medical supplies to food items and heating oil," said Commissioner Jackson. "We are better prepared for a disaster of this magnitude than in the past, but there are still areas where our ability to respond is weak. By working together, I believe Alaskans can strengthen our preparations not only for a potential flu pandemic, but for any other kind of disaster that we may encounter in the future." Deputy Secretary Azar and Commissioner Jackson signed a planning resolution during the summit, officially agreeing to prepare the state for the possibility of a pandemic influenza. In the planning resolution, HHS committed to provide guidance and technical assistance to Alaska in addition to an initial $657,647 of financial assistance for planning. HHS also agreed to review the state's plans for use, storage and distribution of antivirals and notify it of its portion of the federal stockpile of pandemic influenza antiviral drugs. Alaska also agreed that its Pandemic Influenza Response Plan would be an integral element of the overall state and local emergency response plan. Alaska has already established a Multi Agency Coordinating Group and an Incident Management Team representing all relevant stakeholders to exercise its preparedness plan. HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt initially outlined a series of in-state summits to address pandemic preparedness on December 5. Invited guests included first responders, business leaders, educators, health care providers, faith-based organizations, volunteer agencies, policy makers and others. According to Secretary Leavitt, the in-state summits will help the public health and emergency response community in each state inform and involve their political, economic and community leadership in this process. Secretary Leavitt and other top HHS officials will participate in the meetings over the next few months. Pandemicflu.gov presents all federal avian and pandemic information in one consolidated Web site. The site, managed by HHS, features links to international and state and local government websites. Planning checklists are provided for the following: * State and local government; * Business; * Individuals and families; * Schools; * Health care providers; and * Community organizations, including faith-based organizations Due to public interest in avian flu, the Alaska Department of Health included a panel of experts who discussed how state agencies work together to monitor and plan for the possibility of avian flu in Alaska. More information on pandemic flu readiness is available at http://www.pandemicflu.gov. To review a copy of Alaska's pandemic response plan and find links for communities, businesses and other organizations to prepare for pandemic flu, go to http://www.pandemicflu.alaska.gov.
SOURCE U.S. Department of Health and Human Services