International spread of disease threatens health, economies and security (World Health Report 2007: A safer future for the 21st Century)

More than at any previous time in history, global public health security depends on international cooperation and the willingness of all countries to act effectively in tackling new and emerging threats. That is the clear message of this year’s World Health Report, A Safer Future, which concludes with six key recommendations to secure the highest level of global public health security:

      • Full implementation of the revised International Health Regulations (IHR 2005) by all countries.
      • Global cooperation in surveillance and outbreak alert and response.
      • Open sharing of knowledge, technologies and materials, including viruses and other laboratory samples, necessary to optimize secure global public health.
      • Global responsibility for capacity building within the public health infrastructure of all countries.
      • Cross-sector collaboration within governments.
      • Increased global and national resources for training, surveillance, laboratory capacity, response networks, and prevention campaigns.

In our increasingly interconnected world, new diseases are emerging at an unprecedented rate, often with the ability to cross borders rapidly and spread. Since 1967, at least 39 new pathogens have been identified, including HIV, Ebola haemorrhagic fever, Marburg fever and SARS. Other centuries-old threats, such as pandemic influenza, malaria and tuberculosis, continue to pose a threat to health through a combination of mutation, rising resistance to antimicrobial medicines and weak health systems.

Given today’s universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). “International public health security is both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility. The new watchwords are diplomacy, cooperation, transparency and preparedness.”

The need for global solidarity is especially clear in the response to outbreaks of infectious diseases. This month, WHO has been closely involved in the response to an outbreak of Marburg fever in Uganda. Together with partners in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), M?decins sans Fronti?res, the Uganda Virus Research Institute, and African Field Epidemiology Network and local NGOs, WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health to strengthen active surveillance, contact tracing, infection control, logistics, and social mobilization activities in an effort to contain the outbreak.

The team is carefully studying conditions surrounding the initial transmission, in the hope of improving understanding of where the virus resides in nature and how it passes to humans, improving the ability to predict and prevent outbreaks in the future.

WHO and its partners are closely involved in the global response to H5N1 avian influenza, which has caused huge outbreaks in poultry and at least 308 human deaths since it was first isolated in humans in 1997.

This World Health Report traces the history of efforts to contain infectious diseases (including plague, cholera and smallpox). It describes the evolution of outbreak surveillance and response activities of international partnerships of agencies and technical institutions. These include GOARN, the chemical and environmental health incident alert and response system, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is supporting surveillance of many other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The report shows how and why diseases are increasingly threatening global public health security. High and rapid mobility of people is one factor. Airlines now carry more than 2 billion passengers a year, enabling people and the diseases that travel with them to pass from one country to another in a matter of hours. The potential health and economic impact was seen in 2003 with SARS, which cost Asian countries an estimated US$ 60 billion of gross expenditure and business losses.

The full report can be downloaded and is available in English, French and Spanish and the Executive summary in the six UN languages.

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