Global Alert and Response (GAR)

Communicable disease alert and response for mass gatherings

Key considerations

June 2008

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Even if the existing health services and other support services of the host community has adequate capacity to manage the regular disease burden affecting its own population (including occasional outbreaks), the influx of large numbers of people attracted to a MG, together with the infrastructural changes needed to support the event, can place severe strains on such services, compromising the ability to detect a developing problem and carry out an effective response. If the gathering draws visitors from different nations, regions and cultures, the risk of potential importation or international spread of infectious disease presents additional challenges – as do many of the issues inherent in dealing with a sudden increase in a vastly more culturally and linguistically diverse population.

The Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response department (EPR) of the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided support to Member States in hosting MGs on several occasions in the past, and regularly receives numerous requests for technical support from countries organizing large MGs (such as the Olympic Games, the Hajj, World Youth Days, and so on). In response to this need, EPR has now developed a comprehensive document to provide guidance to all those involved in the health aspects of planning for MGs (not just those directly employed in the health services). It has been conceived as a tool to guide those responsible for the health needs of individuals attending a MG, and to help them plan their actions. Its focus is outbreak alert and response, but there are many other programmes and agencies, within and outside public health, that may be impacted by the factors associated with MGs. The principles and practices outlined in the document may also provide valuable initial guidance to those involved in planning other aspects of the management of MGs.

  • a compilation of external resources and best practices;
  • a virtual advisory board comprising scientists and experts with wide experience in planning and conducting MGs of different types (Olympic Games, Haji, World Youth Days, etc.). This group operates within the principles and framework of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and it can be consulted by Member States throughout the process of a MG. The flexible and dynamic structure of this advisory group will also allow the group to increase its expertise as more MG-specific knowledge is required.

This guidance document will be field tested and will likely be expanded with the aim of including all public health components that complement activities engaged in the prevention and control of communicable diseases.

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