World Health Day:A global challenge to build a safer future [Archives:2007/1042/Health]

April 16 2007
Diseases like malaria become more common following natural disasters such as flooding.
Diseases like malaria become more common following natural disasters such as flooding.
Children cover their face with masks to prevent SARS infection, which infected more than 8,000 people in close to 30 nations and killed more than 750.
Children cover their face with masks to prevent SARS infection, which infected more than 8,000 people in close to 30 nations and killed more than 750.
Jamal Al-Najjar
In today's world, disease outbreaks know no borders. Globalization has brought about new changes to every area of life, including health. Just as the world has witnessed great development in terms of telecommunication and technology, diseases also have found new ways to spread rapidly, sometimes armed via manmade means.

Not only this, the way humans inhabit the earth has provided a fertile environment for new diseases to emerge, especially those outbreaks that exceed borders to invade the entire world, if not combated.

In the face of all these threats, strong collaboration between both developed and developing countries is the key to combating disease outbreaks and insuring a safer future for humankind, as well as for the generations to come.

Prompted by the necessity of shared responsibility on the part of all world nations, the World Health Organization focused its 2007 World Health Day theme on International Health Security, presenting the main health issues and major threats likely to exist or escalate in any country and spread to as many other countries as they have the opportunity.

Issue 1: Emerging diseases

New diseases partly emerge from changes in the way people inhabit the earth. Between 1973 and 2000, 39 agents were identified as being able to cause human disease. SARS and avian influenza (bird flu) are two outstanding examples of such outbreaks with universal vulnerability.

In this case, the concept of national defense is too far from required perspectives, since such outbreaks can cross international borders rapidly and infect people. Therefore, all countries must cooperate in order to engage in surveillance and sustain an emergency response system to prevent such threats.

Issue 2: Economic stability

Although increasing global economic integration has reduced poverty in many countries, it also has exposed people to numerous diseases and made it easy for such diseases to spread easily. Additionally, these diseases cost infected nations billions of dollars in launching campaigns and providing treatment.

Issue 3: International crises and humanitarian emergencies

Natural disasters, armed conflicts and food and water shortages are all forms of international crises. Humanitarian emergencies arise from the effects of such crises in order to help people, who subsequently become subject to infectious diseases, malnutrition, mental illness and exacerbation of chronic diseases. Disaster preparedness strategies and humanitarian response mechanisms can reduce the negative impacts of natural disasters to a large extent.

Issue 4: Chemical, radioactive and biological terror threats

Chemical, biological and radioactive weapons are major health threats able to spread lethal diseases, as happened in the United States in 2001 when anthrax-tainted letters were sent via the U.S. postal system. Techniques used to deal with such attacks are similar to those used in natural disasters, including prompt response and securing food, water and sanitation systems.

Issue 5: Environmental change

The earth's climate is changing. Temperatures are rising and, thus, polar ice caps are melting. As a result, the world is likely to experience numerous health problems, such as the outbreak of malaria, drought, flooding and the spread of viruses in various parts.

However, solutions to global warming and environmental changes can come through collaboration between governments and organizations so as to change the way people live and work and, consequently, help reduce these changes.

Issue 6: AIDS – provoking the health and security debate

The severe social and economic consequences of HIV and AIDS have led to concerns about personal security implications, both in those countries whose health systems are struggling to meet this crisis in addition to other acute and chronic health needs, and to a certain extent, in those where HIV and AIDS have become manageable illnesses.

In this respect, great effort should be made regarding the methods to be followed in order to prevent more victims, as well as providing medicine to infected individuals, especially given that these diseases threaten many developing countries.

Issue 7: Building health security

In today's globalized world, there's a common interest in preventing the spread of disease internationally. In recent decades, diseases have spread faster than ever, aided by high-speed travel and the trading of goods and services between both nations and continents. Rapid spread of disease can be prevented only if there's an immediate alert and response to the outbreak of diseases and other incidents that could spark epidemics or spread globally.

The framework of collaboration laid out by international health regulations and various existing surveillance networks provides an effective early warning and response system. International health regulations aim to achieve maximum protection against the international spread of disease with minimal disruption to trade or travel.

Whenever WHO receives an official report or rumor of an event, an investigation immediately begins and response teams are deployed as necessary via systems such as the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network.

Since its creation in 2000, the network's partners have provided expertise and technical support for 90 events of international importance, with more than 500 experts providing direct field support to some 40 countries. Among routine successes in preventing widespread outbreaks of diseases like meningitis, yellow fever and cholera, the network was instrumental in controlling the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Collaboration between states, especially between developed and developing nations, to ensure availability of technical and other resources is crucial, not only in implementing regulations, but also in building and strengthening public health capacity, as well as the networks and systems that strengthen international health security.

Issue 8: Strengthening health systems

Functioning national health systems are of vital importance to international health security; hence, their objective is to provide the highest level of protection and care to the entire population. Additionally, they are the first line of surveillance for both infectious and chronic diseases.

Emerging diseases put great stress on any health system. However, not every nation has the resources or the public health system required to provide an effective response. Additionally, some countries also find it difficult to effectively confront threats to health security.

Regarding all of the above health issues, what's required of every individual, organization and nation is to enhance cooperation and share information, using every communication channel to stand firm before any threat that may arise from emerging and epidemic-prone diseases and affect international health security.

Furthermore, all of those concerned about health issues are required to raise awareness among the world's population concerning health instructions, which contribute to decreasing any potential health threats, and scale up health security measures.