Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2009

WAPO on WHO’s biosurveillance system

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 30, 2009

Today’s Washington Post includes a front-page piece on a possible breakdown of the WHO biosurveillance system that may have delayed full recognition of the Mexican outbreak from April 16 to April 24.  Please see, System Set Up After SARS Epidemic Was Slow to Alert Global Authorities

Some readers may want to access the WHO’s International Health Regulations.  This is the international agreement which established the biosurveillance system. Pertinent to the Washington Post‘s findings, the signatories to the IHR are to complete an assessment of the biosurveillance and response system by this coming June 15.

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Comment by Peter J. Brown

April 30, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

WHO aside, apparently one system set up in 2007 by Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. after the deadly SARS episode has worked surprising well, “despite some of the flawed assumptions that went into (it).” A Canadian Press article today on the North American Plan for Avian and Pandemic Influenza — http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/World/2009/04/30/9307416-cp.html — gives the Plan high marks. It was established to, “detect, control and contain an influenza outbreak, prevent or slow its entry into North America, and then minimize the impact on the economy and society.”

“This definitely provided the backbone that we need now,” said Mary Kosinski, a policy adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“It really does allow us to respond in a way that is more coherent, as North America, as opposed to one country figuring it out on their own,” David Butler Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, told reporters Thursday.

The article also quotes Mary Mazanec, deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“One of the things that really this plan helped us to organize and co-ordinate is communication efforts,” said Mazanec, in an interview from Washington, D.C.

“First of all, just getting parties together in advance of an event to start speaking to each other, identifying who the appropriate people are is really helpful, because then when you have an event, you have that network created. We are basically in daily communications with Canada and Mexico.

“That’s critical in an event like this.”

By the way, for those who have been following the discussion of HSPD-21 this week, that HSPD became public in October, 2007 just two months after the North American Plan. So, did work on this “backbone” affect work or the thought process surrounding HSPD-21 in any way? I wonder.

Comment by Peter J. Brown

April 30, 2009 @ 8:43 pm

Another good news story showing the tremendous progress that has been made in surveillance and detection is unfolding tonight at Narita Airport in Japan where Japanese authorities may have may have intercepted their first inbound infected air passenger at the gate. Incident involves Northwest flight from LA, The Yomiuri Shimbun is reporting.


“About 20 passengers who were seated near the woman were quarantined at the airport.

“According to the airport operating company, the Northwest flight was urged not to leave the apron at Gate 21 after arriving at the airport at about 3:30 p.m., and the woman and other passengers in her vicinity were told to remain on board.”

“A final diagnosis requires the Infectious Disease Surveillance Center in Tokyo to conduct further examinations. The process is expected to take about three days.

“The results of the gene test were expected early Friday. If this woman’s case is determined to be a suspected infection, passengers who were seated near her and those who accompanied her will be required to stay in a facility near Narita Airport for up to 10 days while their health is monitored.

“On Thursday night, Taro Tsukahara, the health minister’s secretariat counselor, told reporters: “The PCR [gene] test currently is being conducted…We’d like to handle the issue cautiously, as this could be the first [domestic case].”

Asia was out front on this one in a hurry in terms of intensive monitoring with thermal imaginers at major ports of entry, Narita being one of them. This is the kind of upbeat story that deserves to be in th win column and on the daily highlight reel.

Comment by Peter J. Brown

April 30, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

Narita case turns up negative for H1N1, but first confirmed case surfaces in Yokohama, Kyodo News reports.

Comment by Arnold

April 30, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

Re Narita, sorry to say not that shocking if the good people at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center/Center for Biosecurity are to be believed. They posted an issue brief on why border restrictions would be ineffective to stem the tide of this potential pandemic. Included was a section on why thermal imaging is likely to fail–and it failed during the SARS outbreak for which the machines were originally acquired.


Pingback by Swine flu: operational plan and playbook | Homeland Security Watch

May 1, 2009 @ 5:41 am

[…] terms of surveillance and detection, perhaps a post and comments made yesterday provides a good […]

Comment by Peter J. Brown

May 1, 2009 @ 5:46 am

From the time that thermal imagers were first deployed in 2003, there has been a debate over their effectiveness. Nobody has ever viewed them as a standalone defensive measure or as a detection device superior to all other techniques. Rather they have been deployed as part of a multi-layered approach. Even if they have only bring a degree of “limited effectiveness” to the overall effort, they should not be discarded for lack of a viable alternative, and further work to refine this toolset should not be discouraged.

Slate ran an interesting commentary earlier this week by William Saletan, “Heat Check: Swine flu, body heat, and airport scanners”.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2217148/

“Six years ago, when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome swept the world, governments bought thermal-image scanners and set them up at airports. The idea was to spot overheated travelers and check them for fever before they infected others. Now the machines are being deployed again, this time to catch swine flu,” wrote Saletan.

“The World Health Organization thinks this is folly. According to WHO officials, the virus has already spread too far, and anyway, “Fever monitoring doesn’t work because you don’t get the cases which are still in incubation.” For these and other reasons, dozens of thermal imagers in Canada and Australia are sitting unused.

“That’s a shame. Heat scanners certainly can’t handle the current flu threat by themselves. But they can help…”

Comment by Jewel Friedeck

August 6, 2010 @ 1:50 am

Hrmm that was weird, my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks. When he protested that his own car insurance would cover any rentals, they seemed to relent, and printed a form out for him.

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