6 April 2007
On April 7 the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates its founding with the annual World Health Day. This year the theme focuses on international health security. To initiate the events the new WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, spoke at a high-level international meeting in Singapore on April 2nd. At the same time a multinational conference was held in Washington, DC at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) April 2-3.
Dr. Chan emphasized several key points:
1. One of the greatest threats to international health security is “emerging and epidemic-prone diseases”.
2. Modern activities that can contribute to such disease outbreaks include: the way we use and misuse antibiotics, how we produce and trade food, the high volume of air travel, and how we manage our environment.
3. Outbreaks are a bigger threat today than 30 years ago in two ways. First, emerging infectious diseases are more numerous now. For example 39 human pathogens have been identified between 1973 and 2003. Approximately 75% of emerging human infectious diseases began as animal diseases. Second, the highly mobile and interconnectedness of the 21st century can amplify the damage caused by outbreaks. Examples include: the almost 2 billion airline passengers each year, interrelated financial markets, just-in-time production and global business sourcing, and electronic multimodality information exchange.
4. In two months (June 2007), the new International Health Regulations (IHR), will allow WHO for the first time “to act on media reports to request verification and offer collaboration to an affected country. If this offer is refused, WHO can alert the world to an emergency of international concern using information other than official government notifications.” These new regulations should increase the ability of the WHO to act in a proactive manner to pre-empt “an outbreak early and stop it at its source---before it has a chance to become an international threat.”
5. Misuse of antimicrobial drugs may result in a world “where mainstay antibiotics are no longer effective” and multidrug resistant viruses and bacteria can travel readily across international borders.
The complete transcript of Dr. Chan’s speech can be found on the WHO website under the section on World Health Day 2007 at: www.who.int/world-health-day/2007/toolkit/dg_message/en/index.html
Daniel R. Lucey, MD, MPH
Director, Center for Biologic Counterterrorism and Emerging Infectious Diseases, EROne Institutes, Washington Hospital Center
Co-Director, M.S. Graduate Program in Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases
Website: www.BePast.org e-mail: Daniel.R. Lucey@Medstar.net