FIRST AIRPORT IN CHINA PASSES WHO HEALTH INSPECTION WITH FLYING COLOURS"Exert Ourselves to Establish the International Sanitary Airport at Shenzen," advises a long red banner stretching across the concourse of the main terminal. That's exactly what China did and the effort paid off. At the end of May, Shenzen International Airport passed a World Health Organization (WHO) health inspection with flying colours.
The airport easily met all the certification requirements of the International Health Regulations (IHR) and the technical norms of the WHO "Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation." As a result of this certification, Shenzen Airport can be called an international sanitary airport by the People's Republic of China.
China spent the equivalent of US$ 3 million over three years to upgrade the airport's sanitary facilities. The investment went towards the establishment in the airport of:
Moreover, although it was not a requirement for designation as an international sanitary airport, the flight kitchen received ISO 9002 certification which ensures comprehensive and continuing quality control for flight meals. Shenzen Airport also provides bilingual information about risks of disease at travellers' destinations in an office connected to the passenger area.
Before intensive work on improving its sanitary
situation, the grounds of the currently immaculate Shenzen Airport were
home to myriad rats, mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches and other
disease-carrying insects. These creatures have been virtually
eliminated. About 100 passenger complaints about in-flight food
were registered annually, as compared to about ten complaints a
year now. ISO 9002 certification was achieved after almost 90 problems
were rectified in the flight kitchen. The old septic tank was replaced
by a modern sewage disposal facility.
Even the airport surroundings are now more inviting, reflecting a city-wide pro-environment policy which more than tripled square meters of green areas. Per capita there are 84m² of planted land and barren areas barely exist today in Shenzen. A wide sidewalk at the airport flanked by palm trees, for example, is pleasant given that airports can often be asphalt and cement jungles perfumed with jet fuel and motor vehicle exhaust.
What essentially made the plan to achieve sanitary success take off and reach its goal was intensive cooperation among key partners: Shenzen Airport authorities and management; the Shenzen municipal government, including the Deputy Mayor; officials of the Chinese State Administration for the Entry/Exit Inspection and Quarantine, based in both Shenzen and Beijing; the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China, airport food and water services and the airlines. All were organized and coordinated to perform a particular role in the grand scheme. WHO headquarters and its Regional Office for the Western Pacific were informed every step of the way and provided advice and encouragement.
Not long ago a small fishing village in the far south of the mainland, Shenzen is today a city of 4.5 million people. It is referred to as China's "window on the world" and is located in a special economic zone which faces Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Ten million people transit through its airport annually and Shenzen has one of the world's newest and largest container ports. The airport is a light, airy steel and glass structure with a modern design, which no doubt contributes to its efficiency, and a welcoming feel.
"The excellent facilities and permanent systems now in place at Shenzen Airport will help check the spread of infectious diseases imported into the country by travellers and will minimize health problems which could be generated in any airport with unsanitary conditions. Shenzen, having achieved this valuable honour, will serve as a model for 46 other Chinese airports," said Dr Song Mingchang, Deputy Administrator of the Chinese State Administration for the Entry/Exit Inspection and Quarantine. Airports in Beijing and Shanghai have been chosen as the next in line for sanitary upgrading.
A practical handbook, "Situational Dialogues in Travel Medicine" in Chinese and English was published in 1999 for use by nurses and doctors in all of China's travel clinics in their examination and treatment of foreigners. The following is an excerpt:
Telephone communications, appointments, reception, consultation, health examination (for a whole spectrum of complaints leading to diagnoses ranging from AIDS to a urinary tract infection), prescription and preventive inoculation are some of the topics covered by the 282-page paperback book.
With the explosion in numbers of passengers taking international flights each year, currently estimated at nearly 500 million, the potential for transmission of infectious disease across borders has increased substantially. Contagious respiratory diseases are of particular concern where air travel is involved. For instance, in our global village, a dangerous strain of influenza, like the one which killed an estimated 30-40 million people in 1918, could circle the planet in a short time infecting masses of people. Air travel can also, for example, transport malaria and dengue-carrying mosquitoes—jokingly referred to as frequent flyers—into non-endemic areas. West Nile Virus, another mosquito-borne disease, killed seven people in the New York City area last year. The disease is not native to the northeastern United States.
Applicable world-wide, the International Health Regulations aim to ensure maximum security against the international spread of communicable diseases with a minimum of interference in traffic. They are, in fact, the only legally-binding international tool with a primary purpose of protecting public health. At present, the IHR oblige 190 WHO Member States to notify the Organization of national outbreaks of cholera, plague and yellow fever. Article 18 of the IHR contains the basic principles and standards for establishing a sanitary airport.
"Many large airports in developing countries would not currently meet IHR health standards. Even some of the world's most developed countries' airports do not measure up. Procedures taken once a traveller arrives with a suspected case of an infectious disease may not be in place or rehearsed enough to be fail safe," said Mr William Cocksedge, who led the WHO expert team which inspected Shenzen Airport. "This is not the case at Shenzen Airport, which easily met all the necessary health requirements in exemplary fashion. The inspection team was very impressed," he added. Among the inspectors was Dr Norman Gratz, a well-known vector control expert.
In light of these looming threats to public health, WHO has begun a project to bring the IHR up to date and on par with current best practices. Historically, the direct precursors of the IHR originated one and a half centuries ago, after epidemics of cholera terrified Europe between 1830 and 1847. Many individual treaties were folded into the WHO International Sanitary Regulations, adopted in 1951. The current edition, renamed the IHR, dates back to 1969 and was only slightly modified since then. Once revised, the IHR will be much broader in scope, and will capture any event of urgent international public health importance.
At the request of the United States, Brazil, the European Union and Canada, the Sanitary/Phytosanitary Committee of the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) will hold a special informal meeting, starting on 22 June, on the IHR. This will be the formal start of a new WHO-WTO working relationship with a view to minimizing conflict and creating complementarity between WTO agreements and the IHR.
For further information, journalists can contact Ms. Melinda Henry, Office of the Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva: Telephone: (+41 22) 791 2535; Facsimile: (+41 22) 791 4858; E-mail: email@example.com. All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page: http://www.who.int