Emerging disease surveillance and response

Pacific situation summary

Communicable diseases are an important cause of illness and death in the Pacific. In 2003 the world experienced the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak and more recently the influenza pandemic in 2009 that caused 1,800 laboratory-confirmed deaths in the Western Pacific Region and more than 250,000 cases. New infectious diseases continue to emerge in the Pacific including chikungunya virus and Zika virus, both mosquito borne diseases and both causing large epidemics. Other important global emerging infections include Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, including H7N9 and H5N1, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (MERS-CoV).

Small communities such as Pacific island countries are vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious diseases including dengue fever and influenza. For example, the mortality rate in 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic was higher in the Pacific than anywhere else in the world1. Adding to this burden many Pacific countries have limited resources to deal with large-scale epidemics. It is therefore important that outbreaks are rapidly detected and responded to.

The Emerging Disease Surveillance and Response (ESR) unit works with Member States and partners to build communicable disease surveillance and response capacity in the Pacific. Some of our major infectious disease priorities include typhoid fever, leptospirosis, dengue fever, and influenza (including preparedness for pandemic influenza), diarrhoeal diseases, and other emerging infections including Chikungunya virus, Zika virus, and emerging rickettsial infections. Many of these pathogens can cause explosive outbreaks leading to substantial morbidity, and burden already stretched and resource-limited health care systems.

ESR works closely with a number of public health partners, in particular the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the surveillance and control of emerging or outbreak-prone infectious diseases in the Pacific. ESR was a founding partner, with SPC, of the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN). The ESR Unit is the focal point for the PPHSN early warning disease surveillance system, the Pacific Syndromic Surveillance System.

1McCallum, L and Partridge, J. Epidemiological characteristics of the influenza A(H1N1) 2009 pandemic in the Western Pacific Region, Western Pac Surveillance Response J. 2010 Oct-Dec; 1(1): 5–11. doi: 10.5365/WPSAR.2010.1.1.008 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3729049/)