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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid