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Int'l Health Ministers Plan For Global Preparednes

International Health Ministers Plan for Global Preparedness

As the human toll from avian influenza grows and the threat of bioterrorism rivets world attention on emergency capacities of medical systems everywhere, health officials from eight nations are planning a more secure future.

The Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI) is an informal, voluntary partnership whose members met in Washington November 1-2 to review preparedness initiatives for responding to threats of biological, chemical and radio-nuclear terrorism; pandemic influenza; food and product safety; and other public health emergencies.

Members are health ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom; health secretaries from Japan, Mexico and the United States; and the European Union (EU) health commissioner. The World Health Organization serves as an expert adviser to the GHSI.

"Today, we completed a risk analysis to focus the priorities toward the most pressing threats in health security," Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during a November 2 press briefing. "Based on that analysis, we agreed on a strategic plan that includes specific objectives and actions that we'll take over the next 12 months."

According to a Ministerial Statement released November 2, the members agreed to:

• Maintain strong technical cooperation on common risks and threats;

• Identify emerging issues and coordinating policy-development processes to address chemical, biological and radio-nuclear threats;

• Strengthen risk-communication strategies within and among members;

• Address threats through research and development of novel medical countermeasures and explore options for expanded access to needed countermeasures; and

• Strengthen the partnership as a forum for discussing global health security and public health issues of common concern, such as pandemic influenza.

"The European Commission believes this initiative is very important in its own right," said EU Commissioner for Health Markos Kyprianou. "It's an important forum and it offers an opportunity to discuss common threats and responses to these threats, which to be effective, have to be coordinated."

The GHSI originated after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax attacks, when the U.S. government called for a regular opportunity for the health ministers of major industrialized nations to meet and exchange ideas.

Chemical, biological and radio-nuclear terrorism was the initial focus, but in 2002, in conjunction with WHO and other international organizations, the GHSI added pandemic influenza to its list of global threats.

In the ministerial statement, GHSI members reinforced the importance of sharing flu viruses quickly and transparently, as called for by the revised International Health Regulations.

The members, Leavitt said, "affirmed the conviction that sharing flu samples in a free and open way is an important and critical part of fighting disease generally, and restated our support" for the Global Influenza Surveillance Network.


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