Global Alert and Response (GAR)

Anticipating Epidemics

Epidemics are contemporary health catastrophes

Epidemics are common occurrences in the world of the 21st century. Every country on earth has experienced at least one epidemic since the year 2000. Some epidemics, such as the H1N1 2009, Avian Flu and SARS pandemics, have had global reach, but far more often, and with increasing regularity, epidemics strike at lesser geographic levels. Devastating diseases such as the Marburg and Ebola haemorrhagic fevers, cholera, plague, and yellow fever, for instance, have wreaked havoc on regional and local scales, with much loss of life and livelihoods.

How to better anticipate epidemics ?

Being able to anticipate the outbreak of epidemic-prone diseases accurately would mark a great improvement in epidemic and pandemic management, shifting the approach from reaction to anticipation and allowing for more orderly and effective preparedness, both in terms of the availability of materials and of the readiness of human and organizational resources.
Forecasting disease outbreaks is still in its infancy, however, unlike weather forecasting, where progress in recent years has been substantial. For example, weather forecasters can now provide reliable predictions covering periods of up to ten days.

Joint efforts to anticipate epidemics

Ongoing collaboration between meteorologists and health sector experts would establish the scientific basis for jointly developing epidemic forecasting tools. Establishing a worldwide forum for discussion and scientific exchange, including researchers, modellers, decision-makers, and research funding agencies representing both the health and meteorological sectors would identify pilot projects in priority areas such as influenza pandemic prediction, cholera outbreak forecasting in countries where cholera is endemic, and major vector borne diseases (dengue, yellow fever, zika virus and chikungunya).

The point of its work would be to create operational tools for anticipating epidemics, identifying the indicators required for these tools to work, and adapting surveillance and data collection systems accordingly. WHO is working closely with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to develop these tools for the benefit of global public health.

Further information to follow