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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs