Pandemic flu planning efforts need to take into account the realities of individuals’ lives and the social contexts in which they live if they are to succeed, cites Anna C. Mastroianni, in the article “Slipping through the Net: Social Vulnerability in Pandemic Planning “, from the Hastings Center. In this article, she talks about the need to go beyond the usual categorization of vulnerable groups (helpful though these are) to identifying “layers of vulnerability” to adopt a more nuanced approach to pandemic flu planning. For example, pregnant women have been identified as a vulnerable sub-group in pandemic flu planning but some pregnant women are more vulnerable than others (those suffering from chronic conditions which may exacerbate their condition, those facing financial barriers to access prevention, those who are more likely to be exposed through their working conditions, those who have caretaking responsibilities for other family members). These vulnerabilities can undermine prevention efforts if they are not considered and planned for.
Action at the community level will be crucial for successful pandemic flu prevention. But what does this mean? Well, several scenarios are illustrative. Employers can develop telecommuting arrangements, offer guarantees of job security, and introduce or strengthen flexible leave policies. Schools can train students and teachers in proper hygiene practices (e.g., hand-washing and etiquette for sneezing and coughing) and alternative sources for services that many schools provide (such as breakfasts and lunches). Elected officials can develop communication strategies for diverse media forms and for those whose first language is not English. Shopping mall owners and schools can consult engineers about proper ventilation in public spaces.
These are just examples and obviously there are more. The main message is for us to go beyond categories such as race, income, etc. to better understand the social vulnerabilities in order to address people’s real needs and maximize prevention efforts. For further information, see Anna C. Mastroianni, “Slipping through the Net: Social Vulnerability in Pandemic Planning “, Hastings Center Report 39, no 5, (2009): 11-12.