A new threat...Global Alert and Response: responding to potential intentional use of biological agents
With the events of Sept 11th and the subsequent intentional release of anthrax spores in the United States, the possibility of the accidental or deliberate release of a biological agent - previously considered an unlikely scenario - has been made a frightening reality.
Confronted with the potential threat to global health security by the intentional release of biological agents, WHO advocates an astute "dual use" investment in national, regional and global public health operations and infrastructure for early detection and immediate response. Strengthening global efforts to detect and contain epidemics provides clear and sustainable public health benefit and prepares for this potential threat to global health security.
At national and global level the major human and technical resources for epidemic containment reside within the public health infrastructure. In an intentional release scenario this infrastructure would remain crucial for disease containment.
It is likely that intentional use of a biological agent would not be announced and that index cases would present at health care facilities for diagnosis and treatment. Recognized clusters/cases would be investigated as suspected natural outbreaks until an unusual pathogen was confirmed and/or unusual epidemiological patterns were detected.
WHO's strategy forGlobal Health Security - Epidemic Alert and Response systematically addresses the threat of natural and intentional epidemics through integrated strategies for combating known risks (e.g. ebola, plague), responding to the unexpected (e.g. epidemic intelligence, verification of events, assessment of humanitarian impact and coordination of rapid specialized response), and for improving both global and national preparedness.
In the event of the intentional release of a biological agent, WHO’s global alert and response activities and operational framework together with the technical resources of of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network would be vital for effective international containment efforts.
On request, WHO global alert and response would support any specialized investigations and, if required, would also provide direct assistance with an investigation/verification team. In addition, WHO’s network of over 250 collaborating centres would provide assistance with transport and testing of samples at international laboratory facilities.
WHO has been working intensively to support Member States with state-of-the-art technical guidance, real-time information and assistance with building national preparedness for epidemics of either natural or intentional origin.