Managing future outbreaks of infectious diseases worldwide will depend critically on increased collaboration across a broad range of specialties in both human and veterinary health, says James Hughes, MD, director of the Emory Program in Global Infectious Diseases and professor of medicine in Emory University School of Medicine.
Delivering the keynote address today at the International Meeting on Emerging Diseases and Surveillance (IMED) in Vienna, Austria, Dr. Hughes stressed the importance of collaborations and networks that include clinicians, researchers and public health workers. These collaborations, he said, can improve monitoring of infectious diseases and facilitate implementation of the revised World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations. The regulations were developed by WHO through an inclusive process involving member countries. Implementation will allow for rapid recognition of outbreaks and prompt communication of unusual symptoms, signs or laboratory results that may signal an impending outbreak in both humans and animals, Dr. Hughes says.
"These networks and partnerships can facilitate proactive communication of critical information from those managing the outbreak to a wide audience, including policymakers, media and the public, as well as help address the critical need for increasing laboratory capacity; that is, the equipment and people needed to run specific tests quickly and efficiently," says Dr. Hughes. Increasing laboratory capacity optimizes early detection of and response to disease outbreaks, thus allowing health workers and scientists to monitor disease trends, he notes.
"Infectious diseases remain a major threat to public health, claiming more than 15 million lives each year. Emerging zoonoses, diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, such as avian flu, are of particular importance," says Dr. Hughes. "Recent cases of avian influenza in Asia have brought concerns of pandemic influenza and its potentially catastrophic effects to the forefront of public health. The avian influenza experience has uncovered both strengths and weaknesses in local, national and global public health efforts, providing important lessons for improving our ability to detect and respond to infectious diseases."
One way to improve the detection and response to outbreaks lies in shoring up the world's public health infrastructure through organizations such as the International Association of National Public Health Institutes (IANPHI), says Dr. Hughes, who is IANPHI senior advisor for infectious diseases.
IANPHI is an international alliance dedicated to optimizing public health service delivery and decision-making globally by improving public health infrastructure around the world. IANPHI's goals are to strengthen and link existing national public health institutes (NPHIs), create new NPHIs, facilitate collaboration and collective action and build a new international community of public health leadership focused on information sharing, networking and advocacy.
Earlier this year Emory, in partnership with Finland’s National Public Health Institute, KTL (Kansanterveyslaitos), received a five-year grant of nearly $20 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support IANPHI. http://www.ianphi.org.
The Emory Global Health Institute was established to support Emory faculty, students and alumni in their work to find solutions to critical global health problems.