Geneva: The World Health Organization on 6 April urged countries to join forces to tackle the growing number of cross-border threats to public health, including avian influenza and HIV/AIDS.
“When the world is collectively at risk, defence becomes a shared responsibility of all nations,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said in a statement to mark World Health Day on 7 April.
New diseases, such as the SARS outbreak in Asia in 2003 and human cases of H5N1 bird flu in recent years, have been emerging at a rate of at least one a year in recent decades, according to the UN health agency.
Outbreaks can no longer be handled as a purely national problem, because they threaten lives and the economy worldwide.
H5N1 bird flu is widely thought to have jumped the species barrier into humans with outbreaks in southern China, but the disease was only detected after it spread into Hong Kong in 1997.
Pneumonia-like SARS, which infected more than 8,000 people and killed more than 800, also caused an estimated 60 billion dollars in business losses in the third quarter of 2003 alone, according to the WHO.
HIV/AIDS was unknown until its discovery in a patient in the United States in 1981. The immune deficiency disease has since claimed about 2.9 million lives in 2006 alone and currently affects 39.5 million people worldwide, according to UN data.
The WHO is pinning its hopes for greater cooperation on revised international health regulations passed by its 193 member nations two years ago, which are due to enter into force on June 15, 2007.
Under the old 1969 regulations, countries were only been obliged to inform the WHO about cases of three infectious diseases: cholera, plague and yellow fever.
The new version broadens the scope to all illnesses that might threaten other countries. “We need to ensure that all countries are equipped to tackle health threats with solid health systems,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told AFP.