New WHO rules mean countries could face quarantine in bid to beat killer epidemics

Under new rules agreed by the World Health Organisation yesterday (WHO), serious outbreaks of deadly diseases such as bird flu and <<<placeholder-0/>> could mean travel and trade restrictions could be placed on many countries." src="/images/sars.jpg" width=250 align=right>Under new rules agreed by the World Health Organisation yesterday (WHO), serious outbreaks of deadly diseases such as bird flu and SARS could mean travel and trade restrictions could be placed on many countries.

After two years of negotiations, the regulations have been adopted by the WHO's 192 member states and will oblige countries to tighten up disease detection and lay down guidelines for international measures.

In future, the United Nations agency must be informed quickly of any outbreak of four diseases - bird flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), smallpox and polio.

The news came as China became the latest country to be caught up in the bird flu scare, and it has rushed millions of doses of vaccine to a western province Qinghai, near Tibet after migrating geese were found to have died from the virus.

This is China's first reported cases of bird flu since last July, and health experts are concerned that the birds, which cross the country on routes that stretch from Siberia to New Zealand, could spread the virus to China's vast population of domesticated ducks and geese.

Humans in close contact with infected birds have died from the condition and scientists agree that it is only a matter of time before bird flu mutates to became a disease passed between humans.

According to the Beijing government the virus in Qinghai has not spread to humans or other poultry, however, another fatality reported in Vietnam now brings the death toll in the latest Asian bird flu outbreak to 54.

China was the source of the 2003 SARS outbreak which spread to 30 countries and killed 800 people, and it has been repeatedly accused of being slow to inform the WHO and neighbouring countries of what was at the time a new disease.

The new rules demand that any "potential international public health concern", including outbreaks from unknown causes or sources, and potentially deadly sicknesses such as cholera and yellow fever, be reported when they are sufficiently serious.

Dr Lee Jong-wook, the WHO's director-general, says the new rules are a major step forward for international health, as the new regulations recognise that diseases do not respect national boundaries, and are urgently needed to help limit the threats to public health.

The regulations extend the scope of the previous guidelines, drawn up over 30 years ago, which required countries to report only three diseases - cholera, plague and yellow fever - to the UN agency, but demanded little else.

In the event of a dispute between the WHO and a member state on the seriousness of an outbreak, the rules allow the head of the UN body to summon a committee of experts to make recommendations on tackling the health threat, and such recommendations could range from continued vigilance to the requesting of proof of vaccination and to travel bans for people or goods.

Member states now have two years to make the regulations part of their own national law.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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