Friday, November 09, 2007

Won't you be my neighbor? Community preparedness and pandemic flu

Neighbors. Whether we live in a city, suburb or rural area, we've all got 'em. Whether or not we've actually met any of them is another story. But recent work by public health students at Indiana University suggests that now may be the time to whip up a batch of cookies and make a call on the folks next door, as getting to know your neighbor can play an important role in the event of a flu pandemic.

Working at the request of a community in Indianapolis, students at the university's School of Public Health developed a plan known as "Healthwatch" that can be used to link up neighbors. At the heart of Healthwatch is the idea that neighbors can work together on preparedness, communication and awareness and rely on one another during a flu pandemic. Even though the plan was created for a specific community, it can serve as a model and be used elsewhere, according to Victoria Russo, MPH, who discussed the approach during the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting this month.

"Our world is now faced with a deadly disease," Russo said. "The impact will be local, therefore preparedness must be at the local level also."

Based on the Healthwatch plan, here are some tips that you can use in your neighborhood:

*Bring together residents on pandemic flu planning through a community or neighborhood organization, which can serve as the coordinator for the effort.

*Getting a handle on a whole community of residents at once can be daunting. Try organizing neighborhoods into smaller units, such as 10 households each (be they apartments, mobile homes or houses). Then pick a captain that will serve as the head of each unit.

*Ask residents to provide details such as how many people live in each home and contact information to the unit captain. Create a phone tree so that residents can stay up-to-date on the situation and check up on those who need help.

*Come up with a way that sick households can be identified during a pandemic, such as a flag on a mailbox or sticker on a door, and ask residents to call in their symptoms to their captains, who can relay requests for help.

*Encourage residents to plan ahead and stock up on supplies for their households now, and to think about who in their homes might have special needs, such as the elderly or pregnant women.

The bottom line? Get to know your neighbor today. Because in the event of a disaster- be it pandemic flu or a hurricane- your nearest neighbors may turn out to be your closest allies.

Photo courtesy iStockphoto

No comments: