The U.S. won commitments from 25 countries and the World Health Organization to work together on systems to better detect and combat outbreaks of infectious diseases such as H7N9 avian flu and Ebola virus.
The Obama administration plans to spend $40 million in 10 countries this year to upgrade laboratories and communications networks so outbreaks can be controlled more quickly, Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said today in an interview. President Barack Obama will seek another $45 million next year to expand the program.
Infectious diseases account for about 1 in 4 deaths worldwide, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. While diseases such as Ebola and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome haven’t posed a threat to the U.S., lapses in other countries may allow an outbreak to spread rapidly, Frieden said.
“No country can protect itself solely within its borders,” Frieden said. “We’re all only as safe as the weakest link out there. This is an effort to essentially make the U.S. safer and make the world safer, to improve countries’ capacity to better find, stop and prevent health threats.”
Frieden and Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. health secretary, held a videoconference today with the partners in the effort.
While no other country made a specific financial commitment today, Frieden said, all the nations at the conference including China, Russia, France and the U.K. agreed to “accelerate progress and address not just the health sector but include security in health in new ways.”
“For the first time, really, we have a consensus on not only what are the threats, but what do we have to do to address them,” he said.
As an example, Frieden said Turkey’s government agreed to host a WHO office to respond to outbreaks in its region.
The agreement will also target emerging infections such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The 10 countries in line for the U.S. investment, which will be funded by the CDC and the Department of Defense, weren’t identified. The CDC plans to build on test projects last year in Uganda and Vietnam, where the agency helped the two nations’ health officials improve systems to detect and combat outbreaks of dangerous pathogens that include drug-resistant tuberculosis, Ebola virus and exotic flu strains.
In Uganda, CDC officials helped the country’s Ministry of Health upgrade laboratories where tissue samples would be tested in the event of an outbreak, and developed a system for local doctors to report cases of illness by text message, according to an article published in the CDC’s journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Uganda now is able to quickly transport tissue samples from rural outbreaks to a high-security lab in the capital, Kampala, by motorcycle courier and overnight mail, Frieden said. A mobile phone network-connected printer then texts lab results back to rural hospitals, he said.
“Ultimately every country in the world should have this kind of system,” Frieden said. The $40 million, he said, “is certainly enough to make a good start.”
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