BOX 4-2 Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network

The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network enables WHO to monitor disease outbreaks continuously. This network was formally launched in 2000 and links over 72 existing networks around the world, some of which are able to diagnose and detect unusual agents and handle dangerous pathogens. The four critical tasks of the network are epidemic intelligence and detection, verification of rumors and reports, immediate alert, and rapid response.

The Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network gathers global disease intelligence using a number of sources, such as ministries of health, WHO country offices and collaborating centers, laboratories, academic institutes, and nongovernment organizations. The Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), an electronic system that constantly performs surveillance of worldwide communications for disease events, is one of the most important informal sources from which the network gathers data. GPHIN was developed for WHO through a collaboration with Health Canada in 1996.

The intelligence gathered is converted by the WHO Outbreak Alert and Response team, which then determines whether a reported disease event constitutes cause for international concern. The team meets each morning to review reports and rumors, assess their epidemiological significance, and determine actions needed. The team creates a detailed report that is distributed electronically each day to specific WHO staff around the world. From 1998 to 2001, WHO verified 578 outbreaks in 132 countries.

The network electronically connects WHO member countries, disease experts, institutions, agencies, and laboratories to keep them constantly informed of outbreak events, rumored and confirmed. The network also provides real-time alerts through an outbreak verification list, offering detailed information on current outbreaks that is regularly updated and maintained. In addition, WHO posts information on outbreaks on its Disease Outbreak News website.

Rapid response is a critical task of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. Once an outbreak has been verified, the Outbreak Alert and Response team determines whether an international response is needed to contain it. When an international response is necessary, partners in the global health network are called upon to provide specific support, from investigations and patient management to logistics, including the provision of necessary staff and supplies. WHO and the Nuclear Threat Initiative recently partnered to create an Emergency Outbreak Response Fund to ensure that the rapid response teams can be at a designated site within 24 hours of a detected outbreak. Since 2000, WHO and the network have launched effective international responses to outbreaks in Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, and other countries.

SOURCE: World Health Organization, 2003b.



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