World faces threats of new infectious diseases: WHO
23/08/2007 14h40

GENEVA (AFP) - The World Health Organisation on Thursday warned that a new deadly infectious disease like AIDS or Ebola is bound to appear in the 21st century, in a report urging more global solidarity to tackle an expanding array of health threats.

"It would be extremely naive and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola, another SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), sooner or later," the 2007 World Health Report said.

Since the 1970s, new diseases have been identified at the "unprecedented" rate of one or more per year, the report on global health security in the 21st century said.

Other centuries-old threats such as influenza, malaria and tuberculosis, were also thriving due to a combination of biological mutations, rising resistance to antibiotics and weak health systems.

"We clearly have gone through a huge shift -- our relationship to the animal kingdom, our travel, our social, sexual and other behaviour have changed the nature of our relationship with the microbial world," said Mike Ryan, head of WHO's epidemic and pandemic alert.

"The result of that is the emergence of new pathogens and the spread of new pathogens around the world," despite a heightened capacity to identify them, he told journalists.

The report stressed that health threats were no longer easily confined within a country but could spread around the world swiftly, partly due to the expansion in passenger air travel over the past half century and to trade.

It also underlined the threat from food-borne diseases, chemical, biological or nuclear accidents or attacks and industrial pollution.

Climate change "may put millions of people at risk in several countries," making it a public health issue, the report added.

WHO Director General Margaret Chan highlighted the impact of population growth, rapid urbanisation, intensive farming practices, environmental degradation and the misuse of antibiotics, saying they helped the microbial world thrive and evolve.

"The international dimensions of emerging and epidemic-prone diseases are ominous," Chan told journalists.

"Given today's universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity, for collective action in the face of a shered threat," she added.

However, the report underlined that there were "serious gaps, particularly in health services in many countries," caused by poverty or a lack of investment, that severely weakened the global safety net.

Health and medical care were not only essential for treatment and prevention, but also for detecting new threats such as disease outbreaks, as well as bioweapon attacks or environmental health problems, and limiting the risk they pose, said the report.

Open sharing of medical know-how, technology and supplies between rich and poor countries is also crucial, according to the WHO, and "one of the most feasible routes to global health security.

The three historical advances that helped stifle diseases such as bubonic plague, cholera and smallpox -- quarantines, better sanitation and immunisation -- became successes once they were applied internationally, the report argued.

The WHO introduced new international health regulations this year to sharpen the response of its 193 members to major health threats within their own borders or abroad.

It is also trying to resolve Indonesian complaints about the availability of newly developed medicines in poor countries, which halted crucial bird flu virus sharing with foreign laboratories.

The sharing of tissue samples from human victims is needed to detect possible mutations in the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus -- one of the biggest fears of the beginning of this century -- that might lead to a flu pandemic.

Original article: AFP
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