World Healthcare
WHO for better control of PHEIC outbreaks
Sep 9, 2005 - 5:36:38 PM

For the countries of the Asia Pacific region, two important measures will help to strengthen national capacity for controlling the spread of infectious diseases, particularly those with possibility of trans -border transmission. Delegates to the 58th Regional Committee for the South-East Asia Region discussed the revision of the International Health Regulations, which are globally applicable, and also the development of the Asia-Pacific strategy on emerging diseases.

Over the past few years, countries of the Asia-Pacific region have experienced significant health, social and economic impacts due to outbreaks of newly emerging diseases, including nipah virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Avian Influenza (H5N1). Besides the death and damage to health, Avian Influenza, for example, cost the countries of the Asia Pacific region, estimated economic losses of around US $ 8-12 billion, primarily from the death or culling of 140 million chickens.

The geographic area encompassed by two WHO regions – the SEARO (South-East Asia Region) and WPRO (Western Pacific Region) has also seen a resurgence of known communicable diseases like dengue, meningoccoccal infection, typhoid fever, cholera and leptospirosis. Their occurrence indicates the vulnerability of this region to emerging infectious diseases. Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director of WHO South-East Asia Region cautioned that, “In an era of globalization and an interconnected world, an infectious disease in any country can potentially constitute a threat to global health security.”

Experiences from recent disease outbreaks have demonstrated that cooperation between Member States and WHO contributed significantly to mobilizing experts and resources. Recognizing the need to develop strategic approaches to address these evolving needs, the two WHO regional offices for the South-East Asia region and the Western-Pacific region, in consultation with the Eastern Mediterranean Region, have developed the “Asia-Pacific Strategy on Emerging diseases”

This strategy seeks to reduce the risk of emerging diseases and minimize their negative impacts. Its scope is broad with a wide range of actions including surveillance and outbreak alert and response; laboratory systems; infection prevention and control; zoonoses prevention and control; epidemic preparedness; information management and risk communication. These actions are linked and are interdependent and are organized with the framework of five key objectives. These objectives are (1) to develop and sustain a regional collaborative framework; (2) to reduce the risk of emerging diseases and related threats to health (3) to strengthen early detection of emerging diseases; (4) to strengthen early response to emerging diseases and minimize related threats to public health and (5) to improve national and regional preparedness to respond to emerging diseases.

Globally, the International Health Regulations (IHR), administered by WHO, are the only legally binding instrument covering measures for preventing cross-border spread of infectious disease. The world is beset with global threats from new and emerging infectious diseases as well as other potential public health emergencies of international concern. It became clear that the existing Health Regulations were inadequate to address these challenges and threats.

The Forty-eighth World Health Assembly had called for a revision of the existing regulations. In the South-East Asia region, there have been intensive discussions with countries and with partners outside the health sector, making substantial contributions to the IHR process. After similar discussions held around the world, the World Health Assembly adopted these revised Regulations, in May this year.

“In a bid to strengthen national capacity to combat infectious diseases and to comply with the revised International Health Regulations, WHO will assist countries in carrying out an assessment of national capacities, preparation of epidemic/pandemic preparedness and response plans, stockpiling and supply of life saving medicines and laboratory supplies”, said Dr Samlee. “To meet the challenges of developing core capacity and health system development, including human resources, WHO will provide its technical support, and through regional consultation, prepare a regional strategy and plan of action for implementation. It will also mobilize extra budgetary funds to help build core capacity in the countries”, he added.

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