Senate passes pandemic bill to help developing countries

Improved global disease surveillance systems needed"

The Senate passed a bill last week that would boost international capabilities to detect and monitor potential bioterrorism threats or pandemic disease outbreaks, such as avian flu.

The Global Pathogen Surveillance Act of 2005 states that the United States should work to increase data sharing with the World Health Organization, regional health organizations and individual countries to help detect and quickly contain infectious disease outbreaks or a bioterrorism agent.

The bill is backed by Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a physician; Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). It urges the development of a global disease surveillance systems because the “United States lacks an effective and real-time system to detect, identify, contain and respond to global threats and also lacks an effective mechanism to disseminate information to the national response community if such threats arise.”

The bill states that developing countries lack networked systems for infectious disease surveillance and trained health professionals to detect disease patterns. It calls for U.S. aid in those areas.

The bill states that the United States should provide assistance to developing countries to acquire computer equipment, Internet technology and telephone-based applications to bridge the technology gap. Useful tools include geographic information system-based disease and syndrome surveillance systems.

The bill authorizes the president to assist in enhancing the surveillance and reporting capabilities for the World Health Organization and other regional and international health networks. The president can also develop new networks as necessary.

The Senate did not specify funding for the Global Pathogen Surveillance Act when it passed the bill last week. Frist said in a statement that the bill fits with his call earlier this year for a $1 billion investment in global disease surveillance, and he urged the House to pass its version of the bill quickly.

Frist added that the bill will enhance “the capabilities of the international community and its networks to conduct around-the-clock disease surveillance and respond immediately to outbreaks, both of which are critical to preventing pandemics and protecting the public.”

Training in public health and epidemiology plays a big role in the bill, which calls for the establishment of U.S. fellowship programs for public health professionals from developing countries. The fellowship programs will help those health professionals obtain master of public health degrees at U.S. institutions. The programs will also provide advanced public health epidemiology training.

The surveillance act also states that the United States should offer training in developing countries on subjects such as disease surveillance and laboratory techniques.

To coordinate U.S. efforts to counter biological threats from abroad, the bill calls for the establishment of an Office of Foreign Biological Threat Detection and Warning within at the Defense Department, the CIA or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The office would have the ability to conduct event detection and rapid threat assessment related to biological threats in foreign countries.

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