Jeremy Farrar is someone who “gets it”. He works at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City. He writes in today’s Nature on the need to have expertise at the site of infection. Together with other ‘out there in the real world’ research professionals, he has trained thousands of regional scientists in clinical medicine, epidemiology, microbiology, bioinformatics and other disciplines crucial to monitoring, controlling and understanding infectious diseases and outbreaks. H5N1 is nasty. It kills millions of birds and of course threatens people in pandemic ways as yet unexplored. He makes the hugely important point that local treatment is impossible when the work requires individuals to fly in and out and to analyse samples in another country. This reflects in the access to flu data – an ongoing debate at several levels. Should new lab-mutated flu strains be published and accessible to all? Should flu data painstakingly generated in Indonesia be used by western labs without recognition of the governments and people who capture it? Flu kills. Its as simple as that. We should stop the bickering about who should and should not access the strain data – and instead concentrate on educating our communities across the world on how better to work together to ensure its control.
Farrar’s model for containing flu is an excellent one. Its robust, cheap and efficient. It trains people locally and it addresses the disease at the site of infection. It needs the support of the global scientific community, not just the Wellcome Trust. We used a similar model for development of approaches to containing public health at the SA National Bioinformatics Institute in South Africa and here. Recognition of the power of these approaches will make a dramatic difference to public health, not only in the developing world, but in the developed world where pandemics are a reality.