The World Health Organization has been the pivotal group for international control of pandemics and health hazards since its establishment in 1948. 26 countries met at a Washington conference today; US officials reported a new initiative called Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) that is aimed to ramp-up public health protocols. International groups involved in the discussion of the new standards for public health consisted of World Health Organization (WHO), World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, including members of the US State and Defense departments. The session was led by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, details of the meeting have yet to be disclosed to the public.
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reports that the agenda will require every country to be, in some way, accountable for their assigned projects, although, the rigidity of the standards depends partially on each country’s economic level. The reported projects taking place so far are currently in countries of low-economic and middle-economic levels. Developed countries are advised to assist the lower level countries in order to accommodate the standards set by the GHSA. CIDRAP mentions that many countries have not met any of the standards which were discussed in the 2012 conference regarding the International Health Regulations. 21 countries have reportedly requested extensions on the IHR deadline for this summer.
The GHSA is aimed to better improve national prevention protocols, improve laboratory equipment, and establish national bio-security systems among other goals yet to be released. Allegedly, 80 percent of the countries involved have not met the World Health Organization’s new standards for public health showing to be unprepared to face infectious disease threats. Sebelius states, “Microbes and diseases are moving faster and farther than ever.” The major problem for the international community involves flu viruses like the H7H9 seen in China, antimicrobial-resistant pathogens, and intentionally created or modified organisms, such as biological threats.
Dr. Tom Frieden with CNN and director of the CDC states, even in a lax flu season, thousands of deaths can occur. Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), is an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria that is very deadly and can even spread its resistance capabilities to other bacteria colonies. The WHO reported multidrug-resistant tuberculosis has already infected a half-million people worldwide. Frieden also claims toxoplasmosis, a tropical parasitic disease, infects more than 60 million people in the United States, but the death count is usually attributed to food-borne illnesses.
He hopes that through the GHSA, we can raise the standards for prevention, detection, response and treatment so that maybe countries can stop outbreaks where they begin before they turn into pandemics.
According to WHO, the International Health Regulations of 2005 was in response to the 2003 outbreak of SARS, though this new IHR is an adaptation of the IHR of 1969 taking into consideration the globalization of the modern world. This system of international protocol was “put into force” in 2007. There is now a coordinated effort of defense against upcoming and current public health hazards. WHO will be informed if any one of the 194 legally-bound countries show events that are either serious, unexpected, risk international spread, or risk of restricting international trade.
The GHSA is an agenda pushing forth the IHR’s mandate “to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to” any major event threatening public health anywhere. The new standards for public health will continue to be monitored by the World Health Organization. As Sebelius said it Thursday, “a threat anywhere is indeed a threat everywhere.” Laws will adapt when necessary, and this international event marks the beginning of a new age of stricter public health protocol and response.
By Lindsey Alexander