Threat of pandemic influenza & emerging diseases
Pandemic influenza and other emerging epidemic diseases present a major threat to life, economies and security in an increasingly globalized world. The impact of disease epidemics has increased dramatically as the world becomes ever more interconnected. Airlines now carry an estimated 1.6 billion passengers every year. Trade, commerce and financial markets are increasingly interrelated. The SARS outbreak of 2003 vividly demonstrated how much the world has changed in terms of its vulnerability to economic and social disruptions when disease outbreaks occur. When it happens, the first influenza pandemic of the 21st century could have potentially catastrophic consequences for human life, health, and the world economy. The timing and severity of the pandemic cannot be predicted but, for the first time in history, the world has the advantage of advance warning that a pandemic may be near. This advantage must be fully exploited to enhance global preparedness.
International awareness, leadership and support are unparalleled. The global community has demonstrated unprecedented levels of co-operation and collective action in dealing with SARS, influenza and other threats to bio-security. G8 leaders have taken up the challenge of epidemics and pandemics, providing political leadership and crucial investment at all levels in the past. Continued leadership is crucial to the future.
The opportunities / the solutions
- Biological threats are diverse and unpredictable but can be managed: it is possible to put in place the core capacities to detect and respond to disease outbreaks at national and international levels. The human and technology infrastructure, including research and development of vaccines and rapid tools for diagnosis, can serve to protect people against all infectious disease threats.
- The containment of SARS was the result of unprecedented cooperation between Governments which prevented the disease from gaining a foothold in the human population. All chains of transmission were interrupted within four months following detection of the outbreak, marking the first time that a new disease was stopped before it had a chance to become entrenched.
- The International Health Regulations (IHR) as revised in 2005 represent a major step forward in international cooperation and collective action in the fight against the spread of epidemics and pandemics. They embody a unique strategic approach to "prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease." They will increase the speed of outbreak detection, allowing faster application of life-saving interventions and more rapid alerts to the international community about the evolving situation.
- Epidemics associated with emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are now occurring in historically unprecedented numbers. Since 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) has verified more than 1100 epidemics of international importance.
- Over 70% of new and emerging diseases originate in animals: this reality requires improved cooperation between animal and human health sectors at national and international level, especially in the areas of detection, risk assessment and risk reduction.
- National public health systems are weak in many areas and are put under further stress by poverty and political instability. The lack of disease surveillance and response capacity in one part of the world is a threat to all. Investment in strong national alert and response systems is a vital investment in global health security.
- An effective global alert and response system has been developed with the support of G8 countries but requires further investment. Components include: round-the-clock electronic surveillance for rumours of unusual disease events; and use of partner institutes in the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network to ensure that a “strike force” of technical experts is ready to respond to outbreaks within hours.
- We have for the first time in history advance warning of a pandemic: WHO is working with G8 countries to deal with this threat to life and health through the following health actions: reducing human exposure to avian influenza; strengthening early warning systems; intensifying early containment, building capacity to cope with a pandemic and scientific co-ordination for long term solutions. This plan requires a further US$ 50 million in 2006–2007.
- WHO is responsible for the rapid mobilization of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network to rapidly investigate and control outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases at the request of governments.
- WHO provides regular and ongoing expert risk assessments to governments to enable effective responses to threats to human health such as avian influenza.
- Expert assistance can also be provided to governments to strengthen early warning systems, intensify early containment capacity and prepare for global hazards such as pandemic influenza.
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