Global Response Networks
The increased capacity of nations to respond to global problems on a global basis is thought to be one of globalization's benefits to health. Such cooperation is affecting foreign policy as a well as a range of international agreements and activities, for example, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. This network was launched by WHO in April 2000 and links more than 72 existing networks and institutions around the world to detect epidemic outbreaks, verify rumours and reports, raise an immediate alert and initiate a rapid response.
Such rapid and global responses are thought to be crucial in reducing the impact of, for example, influenza epidemics, because influenza viruses mutate rapidly and spread very easily, causing large numbers of deaths. In 1997 the Hong Kong Government made use of WHO's International Influenza Surveillance Network to identify and respond to a dangerous strain of avian flu. Such networks help prevent influenza pandemics or mitigate impacts through the rapid development of strain-specific vaccines. More recently, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network was a critical factor in the control of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic.
Surveillance is undertaken to inform measures to prevent and control disease, and it now plays a major role in responses to the rapid spread of infectious diseases between countries. An effective surveillance system has the following functions:
- Detection and notification of health events
- Collection and consolidation of pertinent data
- Investigation and confirmation (epidemiological, clinical and/or laboratory) of cases or outbreaks
- Routine analysis and creation of reports
- Feedback of information to those providing the data
- Feed-forward (i.e., the forwarding of data to more central levels).