Volume 2, Number 1—January 1996
News and Notes
WHO Establishes New Rapid-Response Unit for Emerging Infectious Diseases
The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a new rapid-response unit to control and prevent the growing incidence of new and reemerging diseases worldwide. The unit's focus will be improved containment of disease outbreaks, such as that caused by the deadly Ebola virus, which struck Zaire in 1995.
The WHO unit will be called the Division of Emerging Viral and Bacterial Diseases Surveillance and Control (EMC). It will be capable of mobilizing staff from WHO headquarters in Geneva and from the organization's regional offices.
In addition to mobilizing WHO's own technical staff and expertise, EMC will coordinate the activities of the agency's traditional partners, for example, its international network of collaborating centers, bilateral donors, expert advisers, and nongovernmental organizations.
Teams equipped to implement epidemic control measures will be placed on-site within 24 hours' notification of an outbreak. This strategy, when implemented in Zaire, not only rapidly contained the recent Ebola outbreak but also prevented its spread to Kinshasa, the capital city of 2 million.
Among EMC's goals are 1) to strengthen local surveillance and disease control so that countries can develop the early warning systems needed to detect emerging or reemerging diseases through innovative field epidemiology and public health laboratory training programs and 2) to continue WHO's activities in developing a network of public health laboratories to strengthen regional and international collaboration in outbreak detection and control.
EMC will continue to expand WHO's network—termed WHONET—that detects and monitors antibiotic resistance worldwide. WHO will use the information collected to continue to advocate research and development of new antibiotics to replace those that are no longer effective.
For further information on WHO's rapid-response unit, contact
Philippe Stroot, Health Communications and Public Relations, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland; Phone: 41-22-791-2535; Fax: 41-22-791-4858