Whither Surveillance?

Department of Microbiology, University of Hong Kong


The global population is expanding rapidly, bringing with it uncertainties of food availability that will be confounded by climate change. These food issues will also trigger political and global tensions. Food animals are now being raised in vast numbers, engendering increased threats of emerging infectious diseases and possibly a catastrophic influenza pandemic at any time. The H5N1 influenza events of 1997 in Hong Kong and of 2003 in eastern Asia, SARS in southern China in 2003, and pandemic (p)2009 H1N1 viruses show the current value and potential future value of surveillance. Yet, there is insufficient appreciation of zoonotic diseases, difficulty of communication, and complexity of commercial and cultural pressures. Surveillance, observation, and awareness become the cornerstones of “influenza intelligence.” Now is the time for the United Nations (U.N.) and its agencies to grasp the nettle to provide stronger leadership in dealing with emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases and to promote education about them for the global society it serves. The U.N. must provide the impetus for global understanding and responsibility – not only for control but also for prevention.