U.S. and international public health officials have launched two successful demonstration projects - in Africa and Asia - to show how a quick response to outbreaks can contain infectious diseases. They say this is particularly important in light of two global events that are likely to attract gatherings of millions of people in the coming days.
Chinese are heading home by the millions to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which begins January 31. On February 7, tens of thousands of tourists and athletes will descend on Sochi, Russia, to attend the 22nd Winter Olympic Games.
It will be impossible to avoid infectious disease circulating among the throngs of visitors, according to Tom Frieden, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- or CDC - in Atlanta, Georgia. Frieden says public health officials can keep outbreaks from getting out of control with the help of local clinics and modern technology.
In six-month-long pilot projects with the World Health Organization
and officials in Vietnam and Uganda, clinicians rapidly shared information about suspected health outbreaks using text messaging.
“That allowed us to immediately find out when there were suspected problems so there could be rapid investigation," said Frieden.
The so-called global health security measures undertaken in Uganda, Frieden says, also adapted a rural transportation system for quickly getting the blood of newborns delivered to HIV-infected mothers to high tech labs in Kampala for testing.
“[They were able to] use that infrastructure, doctors and other health care workers taking the specimen, motorcycle couriers traveling through very remote rural areas to pick up the specimens regularly and overnight mail service to the capital," he said.
The results were immediately sent via printer to remote clinics.
The pilot program in Vietnam trained health workers in the WHO- and CDC-approved methods of specimen analysis.
Ultimately, Frieden says the global health security system, as a model, needs to be adopted by other countries to keep the world safe from infectious disease threats.
“Because we are all actually connected by the food we eat and the water we drink. That’s why a health threat anywhere is a threat everywhere," he said.
Of particular concern now, according to Frieden, is the emergence of Middle East respiratory syndrome, and influenza H7N9 in Asia, as well as drug-resistant tuberculosis.