U.N. rules to contain health emergencies take hold
New rules to help the United Nations contain public health emergencies took effect on Friday, requiring countries to disclose potential threats from disease, chemical agents, radioactive materials and contaminated food.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said its revised International Health Regulations, approved by member states in 2005, would hasten the detection, investigation and control of potentially devastating outbreaks.
The regulations build upon 1969 guidelines that required countries to report outbreaks of cholera, plague and yellow fever to the WHO.
They were applied a year ago to bird flu and extended on Friday to cover other threats such as polio and smallpox.
Under the broadened rules, countries need to set up round-the-clock communication with the WHO and report events that may be a public health emergency of international concern within 24 hours. Countries must also boost their ability to monitor and respond to public health threats within five years.
Margaret Chan, who heads the Geneva-based agency, said the expanded regulations should lessen the chance of an influenza, or other, pandemic threat spanning the globe, as occurred in 2003 when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread from China to 30 countries, killing 800 people.
“SARS was a wake-up call for all of us. It spread faster than we had predicted and was only contained through intensive cooperation between countries,” said Chan, who was director of health in Hong Kong at the time.
“Today, the greatest threat to international public health security would be an influenza pandemic. The threat of a pandemic has not receded, but implementation of the (international health regulations) will help the world be better prepared for the possibility of a pandemic.”
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