Leaked docs show MOH woefully unprepared for Botulism outbreak

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Oh dear oh dear. Leaked documents showing Ministry of Health advice to Tony Ryall and Jo Goodhew over the Fonterra botulism scare point to the MOH being woefully underprepared for an outbreak.

Remember just a few months ago, Botulism Siouxie – recent recipient of the $100,000 Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize, caused widespread angst by saying “Botulinum toxin A is one of the most toxic substance known to man. One kilogram of it would be enough to kill the entire human population”.

You’d hope the MOH would be able to cope, but documents show an alarming admission.

In an August 2013 MOH Situation Report, the Acting Director of Public Health, Dr Fran McGrath provided an update on the MOH’s actions in response to Fonterra’s contaminated Whey Protein Concentrate and Nutricia Karicare Recall.

McGrath must have been desperate to give Ministers confidence that the MOH was all over the issue like a rash, especially just in case botulism started spreading like wildfire among the population.

At the start of the SitRep, McGrath states “There have been no cases of infant botulism reported in New Zealand in the last 20 years”. From that you’d expect a sigh of relief from Ministers.  

But it’s the follow-on question that should have people worried. And that is “Ok what if there is a case of infant botulism in NZ, how prepared are we to deal with it?”

Here’s what the MOH told Ministers;

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So while the Government and all and sundry were busy slamming Fonterra, the MOH were quietly telling Ministers that there’s two vials of antitoxin in Auckland DHB, but they’re only for use in adults, and whoops they’ve expired and we don’t actually know if they’d work in the first place.

Not tidy Tony. Not tidy at all.


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