Alert, response, and capacity building under the International Health Regulations (IHR)

Alert and response

Acute public health events and emergencies continue to cause illness and deaths, stress health systems directly and inflict long-term disruption on the social, economic, political security of communities around the world. Global economic interdependence, unprecedented levels of international travel and trade, conflict and other transnational threats in the form of chemical, biological or radiological risks increase the need for robust and resilient public health systems. Despite gains in building national core capacities to detect, assess, report and respond promptly and effectively to public health risks and emergencies as required by the International Health Regulations (2005), important gaps remain. The core national and local capacities called for in the IHR are not yet fully operational and a significant number of countries will request extensions to the 2012 target date of IHR implementation. In summary, the world remains vulnerable to risks to public health.

For over 15 years, WHO has implemented a flagship program of public health event risk management by developing the tools, systems and networks for effective international operational readiness, alert and response – a global safety net for events that require a coordinated and international response. The system is founded on one central principle – that early detection and early response can shift an epidemic curve to the left, thereby reducing the likelihood of further disease spread and mitigating the negative health and societal impacts. This response platform provides an efficient, reliable and resilient service to Member States, partner organisations and within WHO as the same alert and response principle applies to other risks to public health. Although designed for epidemics and pandemics, these principles and practices are equally applicable to food, chemical, radionuclear and product safety.

Alert and Response Operations provides the unique convening power, coordinating mechanisms and the tools to implement a multidisciplinary and comprehensive alert and response system under one WHO program. This system includes the following functions:

  • Event-based surveillance, multi-hazard rapid risk assessment 1 and event-based risk Communications
  • Critical information and communications platforms for decision support, and
  • Operations and logistics platforms for any WHO response to international public health risks.

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