HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

World Health Organization and Spread of Infectious Disease

The New York Times writes about on the WHO's report concerning the spread of infectious diseases in our increasingly mobile world.  The report informs us that more communication and sharing of data is essential: 

New infectious diseases are emerging at an “unprecedented rate,” and far greater human mobility — by planes, trains and ships — means that diseases have the potential to spread rapidly across the globe, a World Health Organization report warned this week.


Because of this risk, greater international cooperation among governments and scientists is essential, said Dr. Margaret F. C. Chan, director general of the health organization.  “Given today’s universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity,” Dr. Chan said in a statement that accompanied the World Health Report 2007, issued in Geneva, where the organization is based. “The new watchwords are diplomacy, cooperation, transparency and preparedness.”

Much of the report focuses on how health officials should respond to a more globalized world.  In 2003 the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, was spread from mainland China to Hong Kong and then on to Singapore and Canada via airline passengers. Another factor is that many migrants now travel around the world for work. A polio epidemic that started in Nigeria most likely moved to countries including Yemen on ships carrying migrant workers, organization officials say.

Dr. Chan, who was Hong Kong’s top health official during the SARS outbreak there, has been in her new office less than a year, and the health organization’s experiences during her tenure have underlined the need for improved international cooperation and communication.

I didn't realize that profit was concern in these situations --

For much of the year, the World Health Organization was haggling with China and Indonesia over their unwillingness to share samples of the avian influenza, or bird flu, virus. Both countries have serious problems with the disease, and such samples help international scientists at the health organization track the spread and evolution of the virus, to better predict the likelihood of a global pandemic.  But the samples can also be used for vaccine development, and some countries express fears that the profits and credit for a vaccine would be lost if samples were sent to Geneva. . . . .

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