Improved global disease surveillance systems needed

Canada hosts international flu conference

Health ministers and delegates from more than 30 countries and international health organizations meeting in Ottawa, Canada, this week called for beefed up efforts, including improved disease surveillance systems, to prepare for a possible flu pandemic.

In a communiqué released yesterday at the end of the two-day “Global Pandemic Influenza Readiness” meeting, delegates, including Mike Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that “while at this time, there is no pandemic influenza anywhere in the world, vigilance and surveillance need to remain high.”

But the delegates said monitoring the H5N1 strain of influenza, known as bird flu, is essential. They agreed that the immediate global public health issue “is to work collaboratively with the animal health sector to prevent and contain the spread of the H5N1 virus among animals and from animals to humans.”

The ministers said efforts to prevent a pandemic will require "collaboration and support between countries in developing national and regional plans for avian influenza control and pandemic influenza preparedness within the framework of a coherent international risk management approach.”

Ujjal Dosanjh, Canada’s health minister, said delegates recognized "that we are all in this together and what affects one country can ultimately affect us all.”

Disease surveillance and early detection, diagnosis reporting and rapid response, are crucial to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, the delegates said. They urged the development of enhanced, harmonized surveillance systems worldwide.

The ministers also called for national pandemic preparedness plans and information-sharing protocols among countries and multilateral organizations.

The ministers also called for global collaboration on antiviral vaccine research, increased vaccine production capacity and equitable distribution of vaccines worldwide.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam sent ministers or senior officials to the meeting.

International organizations that sent delegates include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Secretariat, the European Commission, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

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