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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds We can’t prevent epidemics from occurring but what we can do is have surveillance so we’re able to recognise them early and to respond and to stamp them out before they get serious. We recognise epidemics when they are starting through horizon scanning, and we base our response to those on risk assessment. So around the world we know of the emergence of epidemics. And then experts look at the details as they emerge and work out how serious this is and what needs to be done to control this. WHO has instituted the international health regulations and they require every country to conduct surveillance so they’re able to identify outbreaks when they occur and to notify global authorities.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds Now, some countries are better than others at doing those but even countries where that official surveillance is not so good because press and because of social media, information about epidemics starting to occur actually comes to people really quite quickly these days and that enables us as the details emerge to work out what needs to be done to control this. Now WHO has a network called GOARN which stands for the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network and they coordinate interested parties around the world which are able to respond to these epidemics as they occur. Usually WHO will be putting together multinational teams that are able to go and to fight the epidemic when it occurs.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds So from the international health regulations surveillance that was going on and assessments that were done, the global community recognised that there was a very unusual outbreak occurring, initially in Brazil, and this appeared to be caused by the Zika virus. Having learned from the experiences with Ebola, WHO convened a committee to assess the seriousness of the outbreak relatively early on in the course of the epidemic. And they, on their assessment, declared a public health emergency of international concern.

Skip to 2 minutes and 51 seconds And they did that really on the basis of the suspected link between the virus infection and to the microcephaly and other neurological features that appear to be related at that time; not on the basis of the infection itself which in most cases is very mild. Now having declared public health emergency of international concern that usually is the signal and galvanises the international community to start to respond and to coordinate to the epidemic.

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 seconds I think the international authorities responded about as quickly as anybody could expect them to in these circumstances. We could see the epidemic unfolding, but what was very unclear at those early stages was to what degree the very serious complications that were being seen at the same time were related to this infection. And it needed sufficient evidence really for the committee to be able to declare the public health emergency.

Skip to 4 minutes and 1 second The first phase of the global response is underway and this is going reasonably well but we do need better tools and this is where research comes in to make sure that we have better diagnostics, we understand about the vectors better, and are able to ensure linkage to care for people who have been infected by the virus.

How can we prepare for epidemics?

In what ways can we prepare ourselves for an epidemic? Is this even feasible? If not, how can we ensure that our response is as fast and effective as possible?

Professor Jimmy Whitworth currently performs a role around epidemic preparedness, established following the Ebola crisis in West Africa, which is intended to strengthen the global response to infectious disease epidemics. In this step, he discusses what we can do to recognise an epidemic and monitor its severity, how we can communicate information about an outbreak, and how global organisations can coordinate themselves to respond quickly and effectively.

In June 2016 the World Health Organization Global Malaria Programme, WHO Department for Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, and the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, with support from WHO regional offices and a Steering Committee, began to prepare a global vector control response. This response provides strategic guidance to countries and development partners for urgent strengthening of vector control as a fundamental approach to preventing disease and for responding to outbreaks. The draft Global Vector Control Response 2017–2030 aims to reduce the burden and threat of vector-borne diseases through effective locally adapted sustainable vector control.

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Preventing the Zika Virus: Understanding and Controlling the Aedes Mosquito

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

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