Seeing Border Control in a New Light

IN case you missed it, the heads of state of Mexico, Canada, and the United States announced the North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza on Aug. 21, setting in place a much-needed Northern Hemisphere response to prevent a disastrous health episode. The crux of the plan is Chapter 5, Border Monitoring and Control Measures.

The plan's parameters are: detect, contain, and control an avian influenza outbreak and prevent transmission to humans; prevent or slow the entry of a new strain of human influenza into North America; minimize illness and deaths; and sustain infrastructure and mitigate the impact to the economy and the functioning of society. Accomplishing these depends on getting Chapter 5 right, and the plan spells out the steps involved. The three countries will coordinate travel restrictions from affected countries, public messaging to travelers departing North America for affected countries, and, if disease exists in North America, exit screening of travelers departing North America in accordance with WHO and the International Civil Aviation Organization's new guidelines.

En route screening also will be necessary because of the short incubation period of influenza and the length of some international flights, and the plan suggests additional training of flight and cabin crews to detect and manage sick travelers. The three countries will coordinate work on protocols for en route screening and reporting on flights bound for North America, and the plan says they are developing protocols now "to coordinate the dynamic management of inbound international flights in high-risk situations." They're cooperating similarly to screen maritime passengers and people arriving at land border entry points.

Finally, the three vowed to share information. "Robust emergency coordination between Canada, Mexico and the United States will be critical during a pandemic," the plan notes. "A successful North America border-containment strategy will benefit from efficient information sharing.... This coordination is especially relevant to monitoring and surveillance, as well as to collaborative land-border public health measures."

Politically, control of U.S. borders has been knotted up in immigration reform and homeland security debates since 9/11. Coping with a pandemic will demand more intrusive screening and tighter borders than we've seen thus far; we'll need them.

This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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