Disasters like the Asian Tsunami "pale into insignificance" compared to the human cost of an influenza pandemic, says Dr Higson, which will wipe out "hundreds of millions" of lives if it is not prevented.
A recent report in the BMJ showed that avian flu (called H5N1) is beginning to jump from human to human - as opposed to transmission from bird to human only, as happened initially. This vastly increases the potential for spreading the virus across the population, as infection no longer depends on direct contact with diseased birds.
Governments must fund the rapid development of vaccines against H5N1, and build up sufficient stocks of anti-viral drugs such as zanamivir or olsetamivir, the best treatment for anyone infected, says Dr Higson.
Pharmaceutical companies should also expand the manufacture and supply of relevant drugs, he argues, and GPs and other prescribing practitioners must prepare for the practicalities of dealing with an epidemic or pandemic of influenza.
Avian flu is now a true threat to the world's population, Dr Higson concludes. Planning from world leaders to prevent it and deal with its consequences is now vital.