Global infectious disease events require multiple coordinated responses

Challenges remain to effectively respond the next time a public health emergency of international concern arises, such as the most recent outbreak of the Ebola virus that simultaneously affected numerous countries, according to a new brief from the Institute of Medicine’s Forum on Medical and Public Health Preparedness for Catastrophic Events.

Specifically, improved efforts are needed by both domestic and global partners to coordinate a response to emerging infectious disease events that pose a threat to U.S. national security, according to the IOM Forum’s new report, International Infectious Disease Emergencies and Domestic Implications for the Public Health and Health Care Sectors – Workshop in Brief. Released July 7, the brief summarizes the IOM Forum’s workshop on the topic, which was held during this spring’s 2015 Preparedness Summit in Atlanta. 

“The workshop was just one of a series of activities by the forum, which serves to foster dialogue among stakeholders and provide ongoing opportunities to discuss and confront issues of mutual interest and concern,” Jennifer A. Walsh, senior media officer for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, told BioPrepWatch. The IOM forum is now part of the NAS, she said. 

According to the IOM Forum’s brief, once the Ebola outbreak that began in West Africa subsequently made it to America, the disease exposed U.S. health care system gaps and “brought to a head the need for increased communication between hospitals and health departments,” as well as the need for clearer direction and coordination from state and federal agencies on operational standards and practices, according to the brief.

“In 2014, when the United States had mounting concerns that Ebola patients would appear in New York City or Washington, D.C., we did not think to look at Dallas,” said Dr. Dan Hanfling, contributing scholar at the UPMC Center for Health Security and expert on emergency preparedness, response and crisis management, during the workshop.

Ultimately, according to Hanfling, who is also co-chairman of the IOM Forum, all global events start and end locally so it’s equally imperative that “robust” information sharing, monitoring and regional response capabilities be created and maintained at the state and local levels in prep for when another disease – such as H7N9, SARS, MERS-CoV and pandemic influenza – cross borders into the U.S.

And after this experience with Ebola, according to the workshop brief, Hanfling said it’s clear that many people better understand and recognize that the risk of international incidents arriving in the U.S. “is as simple as one plane ride away.” 

Therefore, sustaining this knowledge “will be imperative to support the work and progress that have been achieved in the past year,” according to the brief, and forgetting the lessons learned -- coupled with the reality of emerging infectious disease threats -- “would be a disservice to all those who have worked and suffered through this worldwide event.” 

To read the IOM Forum brief online, go to: