A54/9 - Global health security - epidemic alert and response. Report by the Secretariat, Fifty-fourth World Health Assembly, 2001
(2001; 2 pages)

There is a continuous evolution in the public health risk posed by infectious diseases related to their causative agents, to their easier transmission in changing physical and social environments, and to their development of resistance to existing antimicrobial agents. In 1995, the World Health Assembly adopted resolutions WHA48.13 on new, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and WHA48.7 on the revision and updating of the International Health Regulations. The Health Assembly was fully aware that the strengthening of epidemiological and laboratory surveillance and of disease control activities at national level (i.e. where the diseases occur) is the main defence against the international spread of communicable diseases. The globalization of infectious diseases is not a new phenomenon. However, increased population movements, whether through tourism or migration or as a result of disasters; growth in international trade in food and biological products; social and environmental changes linked with urbanization, deforestation and alterations in climate; and changes in methods of food processing, distribution and consumer habits have reaffirmed that infectious disease events in one country are potentially a concern for the entire world. Another concern is the increasingly possible intentional use of infectious agents. In addition to epidemics that occur naturally, outbreaks might result from intentional or accidental release of biological agents. Natural epidemics and those due to the release of biological agents both present in the same manner. Epidemics may become urgent events of international public health importance as the result of a combination of factors, such as: absence of correct information, misinformation or inconsistency in the information available to national governments, which can result in overreaction to media coverage and subsequent internal pressure on governments to respond; insufficient capacity at country level to recognize disease events in a timely manner, and to contain them; fear of costly repercussions if disease events are notified; and lack of appropriate overarching international response mechanisms, both legal and technical.
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