WHO Leader Sees 'Shared Responsibility' for Health Security

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan participated in a debate on international health security in Singapore yesterday to make World Health Day. She focused on epidemic-prone diseases that cross national borders.

"We live in a world where threats to health arise from the speed and volume of air travel, the way we produce and trade food, the way we use and misuse antibiotics, and the way we manage the environment," Chan said. "All of these activities affect one of the greatest direct threats to health security: outbreaks of emerging and epidemic-prone diseases.... All nations are at risk. This universal vulnerability creates a need for collective defenses and for shared responsibility in making these defenses work."

Chan pointed out that the threats are much larger today than they were in the 1970s, with 39 pathogenic agents arriving in that period -- a number she said is "historically unprecedented, and it is certain to continue." Also, "the unique conditions of the 21st century have amplified the invasive and disruptive power of outbreaks," she said. "We are highly mobile. Airlines now carry almost 2 billion passengers a year. SARS taught us how quickly a new disease can spread along the routes of international air travel. Financial markets are closely intertwined. Businesses use global sourcing and just-in-time production. These trends mean that the disruption caused by an outbreak in one part of the world can quickly ricochet throughout the global financial and business systems. Finally, our electronic interconnectedness spreads panic just as far and just as fast."

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