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

Photogallery US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

update Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid