The World Health Organization on Monday raised its alert level for swine flu, edging the body closer to declaring a flu pandemic, while the death toll in Mexico, where the disease originated, neared 150. Half a dozen countries, including the United States, have identified swine flu cases, likely vectored by air travel.
Governments across the planet are bracing for a full-blown pandemic that could claim thousands of lives. Among U.S. agencies, the Pentagon could arguably play a leading role in combating the disease. Recent emphasis on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief has prepared the military for a global public health mission. But a lack of detailed directives from Washington could undermine the military’s response.
The military’s role in fighting a flu pandemic is roughly outlined in the U.S. government’s 227-page “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan,” published in 2006 at the height of the bird-flu scare. The strategy called on the military to perform three major roles: distribution of medical supplies, including vaccines; flu treatment for military and civilian populations at its hundreds of medical facilities; and keeping the peace in the event of a quarantine or mass panic.
(Photo: David Axe)