NEW YORK, UN (PANA) – The World Health Organization (WHO), recently warned of the emergence of new diseases around the world spreading “at an unprecedented rate.”
“The emerging infections are moving more quickly, as well as spreading faster and becoming increasingly difficult to treat,” the UN health agency warned in its 2007 annual report released in Geneva.
It cautioned that there was a credible possibility that another major scourge like AIDS, SARS or Ebola virus with the potential of killing millions would appear in the coming years.
“Infectious diseases are now spreading geographically much faster than at any time in history,” WHO stated in the report titled: “A Safer Future: Global Public Health Security in the 21st century.”
It said it was vital to keep watch for new threats like the emergence in 2003 of SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which spread from China to 30 countries and killed 800 people.
“It would be extremely naive and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola or another SARS, sooner or later,” the report insists in its warning.
Since the 1970s, WHO said, new threats have been identified at an “unprecedented rate” of one or more every year, meaning that nearly 40 diseases exist today, which were unknown just over a generation ago.
Over the past five years alone, WHO experts verified more than 1,100 epidemics of different diseases.
With more than two billion people traveling by air every year, the agency said: “An outbreak or epidemic in one part of the world is only a few hours away from becoming an imminent threat somewhere else.”
Therefore, WHO called for renewed efforts to monitor, prevent and control epidemic-prone ailments such as cholera, yellow fever and meningococcal diseases.
It also stressed the need for international assistance to help health workers in poorer countries identify and contain outbreaks of emerging viral diseases such as Ebola and Marburg haemorrhagic fever.
It further warned that global efforts to control infectious diseases have already been “seriously jeopardized” by widespread drug resistance, a consequence of poor medical treatment and misuse of antibiotics.
“Drug resistance is also evident in diarrhoeal diseases, hospital-acquired infections, malaria, meningitis, respiratory tract infections, and sexually transmitted infections, and is emerging in HIV,” the report declared.
On the H5N1 bird flu virus, it feared that the current virus, which has so far infected 321 people, killing 194 of them, could mutate to easy human-to-human transmission.
“Although the H5N1 bird flu virus has not mutated into a form that passes easily between humans, as many scientists had feared, the next influenza pandemic is likely to be of an avian variety and can affect some 1.5 billion people,” the report said.
“The question of a pandemic of influenza from this virus or another avian influenza virus is still a matter of when, not if,” WHO noted.
It therefore, called on all countries to share essential health data, such as virus samples and reports of outbreaks as required under international health rules, to mitigate such risks.
It also said that accidents involving toxic chemicals, nuclear power and other environmental disasters should also be communicated quickly and clearly to minimize public health threats.
“Given today’s universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan urged in the preamble to the report.