Responding to emerging infectious disease threats

MANILA, 24 October 2013 – The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with its Member States to build up adequate capacity to respond to emerging infectious disease threats and public health emergencies. Member States are guided by a common regional tool—the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases (APSED 2010)to establish and enhance core surveillance and response capacities.


APSED (2010) serves as an essential road map for establishing and maintaining preparedness to respond to emerging infectious diseases in the Western Pacific Region,” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. “APSED (2010) allows our Member States to attain the core capacities outlined in the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), which are indispensable to combating the risk of regional and global pandemics.

WHO and Member States are reviewing progress on the implementation of APSED (2010) and IHR (2005) during the sixty-fourth session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, taking place on 2125 October at the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila. In the Region, 27 Member States are signatories to the IHR (2005).


Despite much progress, some resource-limited countries need more time to meet these core capacities, and WHO is ready to help them with this task,” declared Dr Shin. Although the IHR (2005) requirements were supposed to be fulfilled by 2012, some Member States may need until 2016 to fully achieve them.


The IHR (2005) stipulate minimum capacity requirements for countries to be able to detect and respond to the public health threat such as emerging infectious diseases, zoonotic or food safety events. These regulations embrace a variety of areas, including surveillance, diagnosis and collaboration capacities. Member States are obliged to notify WHO about public health risks if two of the following criteria are met:


  • Is the public health impact of the event serious?
  • Is the event unusual or unexpected?
  • Is there a significant risk of spreading internationally?
  • Is there a significant risk of international restrictions to travel or trade?


Outbreaks of smallpox, novel influenza, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) or wild type polio virus must always be reported.


APSED (2010) focuses on the regional implementation of the various IHR (2005) requirements, including public health laboratory capacity, risk communications and monitoring and evaluation. As part of the implementation, WHO is currently assisting Member States with setting up emergency operations centres in their ministries of health to coordinate the response and liaise with WHO about potential public health threats. In 2013, WHO established a new external quality assessment for dengue and other emerging infectious diseases in the Region’s public health laboratoriesto ensure that international standards are met.


WHO recently upgraded its emergency operations centre in the Regional Office for the Western Pacific to be able to better coordinate the regional response to emerging threats.WHO also publishes the Western Pacific Surveillance and Response Journal (WPSAR) to disseminate information about public health issues and best practices within the Region. WPSAR was recently accepted into the widely used Medline/PUBMED database, which will increase the reach of its articles.


The recent outbreaks of avian influenza A(H7N9) and dengue, along with ongoing sporadic cases of avian influenza A(H5N1), underline that the Western Pacific Region remains a hotspot for emerging infectious diseases. WHO and Member States are also concerned about threats from outside the Region, especially MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus). To date, 136 people have been infected and 58 have died in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. In accordance with the IHR (2005), WHO has convened an Emergency Committee at its headquarters in Geneva to advise the WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan on the situation.


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