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World Health Organization announces new public-private initiative on disease surveillance and response

The World Health Organization today announces the creation of a new public-private initiative to fight SARS and build capacity for surveillance, epidemiology and public health laboratory facilities in China and the surrounding region.

"Despite the rapid and effective response from partners around the world, SARS exposes fundamental weaknesses in global health infrastructure," said Dr Jong-Wook Lee, Director-General Elect of the WHO. "In particular, the epidemic highlights the need for local and national surveillance and response mechanisms. This new fund and other innovative initiatives like it will help prepare the world to respond to future emerging diseases."

Recognising both the social and economic impacts of SARS, the international business community has pledged support to mobilise the initial resources needed to carry out this work through a special fund. The World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Health Initiative and the WHO will work together to assemble a coalition of business leaders and committed individuals - who will in turn design the fund and mobilise the resources to fill it.

The initial target is to raise US$ 100 million by September from the business community, especially companies with operations or markets in Asia.

WHO will also be working to quickly raise an additional US$ 100 million from bilateral donors to support expanded surveillance and response across the globe. These funds are just the first step in an ongoing global commitment against the infectious disease threat.

"The money will be disbursed rapidly, to get it to the areas that need it most as quickly as possible," said Dr David Heymann, Executive Director for communicable diseases programmes at WHO. "Our sense of urgency comes from the belief that there remains a window in which we can control SARS and eliminate the global threat it poses - forever." As a result of discussions with Madam Wu Yi, the Vice Premier and Minister of Health of China, the World Health Organization will intensify collaboration with China. China has also asked WHO to coordinate bilateral programmes that may complement these activities.

“SARS presents a number of very clear imperatives for business as well as for governments,” said Dr Kate Taylor, director of the WEF Global Health Initiative. “Developing stronger public health infrastructure will not only address the immediate threat of SARS, but will also form the basis of a future safety-net, protecting the world from future epidemics and even bioterrorist threats.”

"We believe that both the collaboration between the WHO and the World Economic Forum and the contribution of business to fighting this global threat demonstrate the importance of public-private partnerships," Dr Lee added.

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For more information contact:

Mr Iain Simpson
Telephone: +41 22 791 3215
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5534
E-mail: simpsoni@who.int