Jun 18, 2007 TORONTO (CIDRAP News) Ten years after H5N1 avian influenza first began to raise fears of a potential pandemic, the world has a stronger set of tools to contain that virus and similar threats, but also a fresh awareness of humanity’s vulnerability to fast-spreading diseases, experts said yesterday at an international conference on flu. Heymann said the old rules “were actually a very passive system” and “a system which countries did not adhere to. Very few countries would report diseases under the International Health Regulations because when they reported those [three] diseases, or any other diseases for that matter, they were penalized with decreased trade and decreased tourism.” “We really are not much further ahead today than we were in 1918,” Dr. David Heymann, the WHO’s assistant director-general for communicable diseases, said in the conference’s keynote address. “We don’t have the vaccines we need. . . . We have some antivirals. But we do have one thing that we did not have in 1918, and that is the International Health Regulations, that now provide for proactive collective action for the H5N1 threat to global public health security.” The Options for the Control of Influenza Conference takes place in Toronto this week on the 10th anniversary of the first human cases of H5N1 flu, which were discovered in Hong Kong between May and December 1997, and one month after the multi-country odyssey of an Atlanta lawyer infected with an almost untreatable form of tuberculosis. The new rules also encourage countries to enforce disease control at their borders while respecting the rights of international travelers. And they reinforce countries’ responsibility to report and contain disease by allowing states to look over each other’s fences: For the first time, the WHO will accept reports of outbreaks not only from national governments but also from third parties ranging from Internet search engines to other states. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, for instance, Southeast Asia lost an estimated $18 billion in gross domestic product and possibly $60 billion in revenues and demand, Heymann said. The new rules, which were enacted in 2005 and became effective Jun 15, update an earlier and much weaker set of regulations that have been in force since 1969. In a change from the earlier ruleswhich emphasized control of only cholera, plague, and yellow feverthey commit WHO members to monitoring all potential public health threats, and particularly emphasize smallpox, polio, SARS, and novel flu strains, including H5N1. “It is important to maintain vigilance and not get so focused on one threat, like H5N1, that we don’t miscue on the emergence and virulence of another,” Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, said at the conference opener. He called the XDR TB patient’s four-country odyssey “a stark reminder of our collective vulnerability to communicable diseases. . . . The world seems to continue to be smaller, with diseases having no respect for borders, cultures or politics.” See also: Conference attendees said the porousness of borders to disease has been sharply underlined by two recent events: the emergence on the Wales-England border of an H7N2 strain of avian flu that infected at least four humans and killed a number of poultry despite being judged “low pathogenic,” and the saga of Andrew Speaker, who detoured through several countries so that he could obtain treatment in the United States for his newly diagnosed case of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB). The new regulations improve on the old not only by emphasizing more diseases but also by committing states to building up their public health infrastructure so they can detect and respond to outbreaks, and to maintaining real-time surveillance of health information so that it can be transmitted to the WHO within 24 hours. But the conference’s opening ceremonies yesterday evening also came 2 days after the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) new International Health Regulations took effect. The voluntary contract marks the first time that the WHO’s 193 member states have agreed to immediately acknowledge and attempt to control any public health emergenciesin their own country or any other territorythat could provoke international concern. Jun 15 CIDRAP News story “New global disease-control rules take effect”
British Airways (BA) has reached a settlement with the trustees of one of its two defined benefit (DB) pension schemes in relation to disputed discretionary benefit increases.The airline has been in dispute with the trustees of the £7.7bn (€8.9bn) Airways Pension Scheme (APS) since 2013 over a 0.2% additional uplift in benefits, which the company had said risked making it harder for the scheme to close its funding deficit.The two parties were scheduled to meet in the UK’s Supreme Court later this year after the trustees appealed against the latest ruling. However, improvements in funding levels and a major de-risking transaction have made the additional payments more palatable for BA, according to a letter to members from the APS trustees.The agreement between BA and APS means the trustees will be permitted to award further discretionary increases from 2021 to ensure benefits keep pace with RPI inflation. The increases will be subject to “some affordability tests”, the trustees said. The APS trustees said they had agreed with BA that the terms of the legal settlement “better serve the interests of the members as a whole than proceeding with the appeal”.Once the settlement is approved by the UK High Court, payments would be made “as soon as practicable, backdated to 8 April 2019”, the trustees added. Source: BABritish Airways first disputed the discretionary payments awarded by the trustees in 2013As well as future discretionary increases, the settlement also includes a one-off lump sum payable to pensioners to compensate for the lack of discretionary increases between 2013 and 2019, the period of the litigation process between BA and APS. This is estimated to be worth about 4.6% of pensions in payment as of 31 March 2019.“Certain increases” would be granted to pensioners and deferred members relating to this period as well, according to the APS trustees. Next year, members will receive a benefit increase equal to 75% of the difference between RPI inflation and CPI inflation.In return for the increases being permitted, BA will stop making deficit recovery contributions to APS. Payments would restart if the scheme’s funding level fell below 100%, the trustees said.The trustees said the discretionary increases were expected to be affordable without additional payments from the sponsor, but BA said it would set aside £40m as a contingency fund.Funding improvementsOne of the main reasons behind the settlement was a £4.4bn insurance buy-in finalised in September 2018, securing more than half of the APS’ liabilities with Legal & General. The deal remains the UK’s largest ‘buy-in’ transaction ever completed.In addition, the funding level of the APS had improved due to a de-risking strategy to shift the scheme out of equities, the trustees said.“Together, these factors have effectively reversed the funding deficit and APS is expected to show a substantial surplus at the next valuation relative to [CPI inflation] increases,” the trustees said. “This surplus would be used to deliver the proposed package of discretionary increases.”The APS entered into a £1.6bn longevity swap transaction with Partner Re and Canada Life Re in September 2017 to insure against increases in members’ life expectancy.The scheme is one of two main DB schemes sponsored by BA. The £16.9bn New Airways Pension Scheme was closed to future accrual from 31 March 2018, and was replaced by a new defined contribution arrangement.
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