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UK Tops List of Countries at “Extreme Risk” to Spread of Swine Flu

The Geography of Swine Flu and Other Pandemics

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The United Kingdom is the country most at risk to the spread of a swine flu epidemic, reports Maplecroft, a research organization that focuses on global risks to business.

The UK-based company released three maps and indices revealing the countries most at risk from an influenza pandemic, including swine flu and bird (avian) flu.

Maplecroft also created the Influenza Pandemic Risk Index (IPRI), which consists of three categories: Risk of Emergence, Risk of Spread, and Capacity to Contain. “Each index generates a list of countries most at risk and that require a tailored policy response on the part of government and business,” Maplecroft said in a statement.

The map of Risk of Spread shows the United Kingdom most at risk to the spread of an influenza pandemic, ranking number 1 out of 213 countries. The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Russia, Canada and Japan are also categorized as extreme risk because of their high population density, urbanization and busy airports.

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Even though the UK and other developed Western nations are at extreme risk of spread, their capacity to contain influenza pandemics ranks low risk, however. “Large stockpiling of drugs and a sophisticated health infrastructure, which the Capacity to Contain index captures, means they have very effective measures with which to fight human influenza,” Maplecroft explained.

Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as the area least able to contain pandemic influenza with 27 out of the 30 most extreme risk countries.

“The capacity of a country to contain the spread of human influenza depends on factors of wealth, health infrastructure, education resources, information and communication networks, and governance.”

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“The Risk of Emergence index unsurprisingly categorises Mexico as extreme risk and ranks the country as fourth most at risk, whilst Vietnam, China and Bangladesh top the table,” Maplecroft said.

Countries most prone to risk of emergence of swine or avian flu in humans are poorer countries that have dense rural populations, with living quarters in close proximity to livestock, Maplecroft said. This is compounded by poor hygiene, lack of access to clean water and sanitation and poor public health education.

Newly Emerging Set of Global Risks

“It is important to see a newly emerging set of global risks–whether pandemics, conflict and terrorism, resource security including water stress, or climate change as inter-related,” said Alyson Warhurst, Chair of Strategy and International Development at Warwick Business School and one of the founding directors of Maplecroft.

“Climate change is causing drought and flooding which in turn leads to crop failures and the destruction of livelihoods which in turn lead to poverty and the conditions that we see increase vulnerability to pandemic flu.”

Sources used to compile the Influenza Pandemic Risk Index include: WHO, UNESCO, FAO, World Organisation for Animal Health, World Bank, Environmental Research Group Oxford, World Resources Institute and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The three IPRI maps and risk categories may be accessed on the Maplecroft Web site.

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Maplecroft specializes in the analysis and creative visualization of global risks. Indicators, reports and interactive GIS maps are among the tools the company uses to assess vulnerability to over 100 global risks. The tools allow major international bodies to formulate strategy, control risk exposure, secure industry leadership and work towards a sustainable future, the company said in its statement.