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Global Effort Needed To Protect People From Species-Crossing Diseases, Report Finds

A team of health experts on Tuesday called for the U.S. “to lead a global effort to protect people from new outbreaks of deadly infectious diseases that originate in animals, such as swine flu, AIDS and SARS,” Reuters writes (Morgan, 9/22).

The appeal comes as a U.S. Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council report concluded that “significant weaknesses undermine the global community’s abilities to prevent, detect early, and respond efficiently to potentially deadly species-crossing microbes, such as the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus sweeping the globe,” according to a National Academies press release. The report also notes, “species-jumping pathogens have caused more than 65 percent of infectious disease outbreaks in the past six decades.”

“Zoonotic diseases are like wildfires, which flare up unexpectedly and can take a significant toll on human and animal health and damage household livelihoods as well as national economies. All too often, our reaction to these outbreaks has been to try containing a wildfire after it has gotten out of control,” Marguerite Pappaioanou, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, said in the release. “We need a system that enables us to prevent the conditions for these disease flare-ups to occur in the first place and to spot them earlier when we can take more effective and measured actions to limit the damage” (9/22).

“The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) should be among the federal government agencies that lead efforts to develop a worldwide system, said the authors of the report, who developed a detailed plan for establishing and funding a comprehensive system to identify new zoonotic disease threats as early as possible in order to reduce the risk to humans and the impact on livestock,” HealthDay News/MSN reports (Preidt, 9/22).

Though “[a] fully integrated global system could cost about $800 million a year to maintain,” the authors note that the cost “is a relatively small sum compared with the $200 billion in economic losses caused by species-jumping viruses and other pathogens over the past decade,” Reuters writes (9/22).

HealthDay News/MSN adds: “‘Developing an effective global system for detecting and responding to emerging zoonotic diseases is a tall order,’ report committee co-chair Gerald T. Keusch, who focuses on global health at Boston University’s School of Public Health said in the news release. ‘However, given the political will and financial resources that have been marshaled time and again to respond to the individual ‘disease du jour’ as each has arisen, we believe it is possible to implement a sustainable, integrated human and veterinary disease surveillance system that is acceptable to all stakeholders. And we must do so now,’ Keusch said” (9/22).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.