News / Health

Threat of Global Disease Outbreaks Spawns 27-Nation Pact

A tuberculosis patient Manjeet Mishra, 18, sits outside a ward at Lal Bahadur Shastri Government Hospital at Ram Nagar in Varanasi, India, Feb. 3, 2014.
A tuberculosis patient Manjeet Mishra, 18, sits outside a ward at Lal Bahadur Shastri Government Hospital at Ram Nagar in Varanasi, India, Feb. 3, 2014.
Reuters
— Twenty-seven countries announced on Thursday the launch of an effort to improve the ability to prevent, detect, respond to and contain outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases.
 
The Global Health Security Agenda was formed to take on such outbreaks whether they are natural, accidental or intentional, as in the case of a biological weapon.
 
Meeting in Washington, D.C., the countries include several that have been Ground Zero for recent outbreaks of potentially fatal contagious illnesses such as H7N9 bird flu, which was detected in China a year ago, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
 
The initiative is a tacit recognition that the vast majority of countries are poorly prepared to detect, let alone contain, disease outbreaks, and that their failure to institute effective disease-surveillance and -control systems poses a global threat.
 
“In our interconnected world we are all vulnerable” when countries lack the will or the ability to detect and contain infectious-disease outbreaks, Laura Holgate, senior director for Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Threat Reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, told reporters ahead of the Thursday meeting.
 
“Disease threats spread faster than ever before,” and “outbreaks anywhere in the world are only a plane ride away” from everyplace else.
 
The Pentagon, too, is involved, already spending nearly $300 million a year to build laboratories and other health-security infrastructure overseas.
 
“The global threat [of disease outbreaks] requires the Department of Defense to innovate,” said Andrew Weber, assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.
 
The Global Health Security Agenda aims to prevent avoidable epidemics by, for instance, keeping to a minimum the number of labs worldwide that store dangerous microbes and by extending vaccination programs.
 
Another goal is to detect threats early, such as by strengthening and linking disease-monitoring systems of individual countries, developing real-time electronic reporting systems, and promoting faster sharing of biological samples, such as throat swabs and blood samples from people with a new form of influenza.
 
Experts in global health security say there is a long way to go before such goals are achieved, as evidenced by failures to meet targets set by an earlier pact.
 
Under a legally-binding 2005 agreement overseen by the World Health Organization, for instance, 194 countries vowed to improve their capacity to prevent, detect, report and respond to public health threats of international concern. They included novel diseases, such as new strains of influenza and outbreaks of known threats such as Ebola. In particular, countries are required to focus on outbreaks that may constitute a global health emergency.
 
The countries had until June 2012 to meet the core requirements, such as strengthening surveillance systems to detect emerging diseases. Eighty-four percent failed to do so, said Rebecca Katz of George Washington University, an expert in global health security.

The reasons included lack of scientific capacity to conduct disease surveillance, such as to detect a new bird virus spreading to people, too few trained epidemiologists and the fact that “some things are just plain hard, like being able to detect and contain a disease at points of entry into a country,” said Katz.
 
Touchier issues have also slowed efforts to improve the early-warning network for emerging diseases, such as Indonesia in the last decade invoking “viral sovereignty.”
 
That nation argued it was unfair to expect it to ship flu samples to western labs that could be used by pharmaceutical companies produce a vaccine that would then be sold at prices that most Indonesians could not afford.
 
It took four years of tense negotiations before Indonesia reached an 2009 agreement to share disease samples.
 
On Thursday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco are scheduled to give opening remarks at the launch of the agenda.
 
In addition to continuing Pentagon spending for global health security, President Barack Obama has asked for $45 million in additional funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention next year to expand pilot programs, such as those in Uganda and Vietnam.
 
In Uganda, for instance, CDC worked with local public health agencies to set up a system for collecting blood and other samples from patients, racing them via motorcycle courier to the capital for testing, and quickly sending back the results so the local clinic knew what it was dealing with.
 
“We have the ability to make both the United States and the world substantially safer from infectious threats,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid