Action Urged to Improve Response to World Health Epidemics

The World Health Organisation has been urged by physicians of the World Medical Association to enhance its emergency response protocol to deal with world epidemics such as Sars.

Meeting in Helsinki for their General Assembly, WMA delegates from almost 50 countries were critical of the way in which the Sars epidemic was handled earlier this year and in particular the failure of WHO to involve physicians early enough.

The WMA Assembly called on the WHO to provide for the "early, ongoing and meaningful engagement and involvement of the medical community globally, including initiating immediate discussion on the establishment of an effective and real time means of communicating reliable, evidence-based information to front line workers and the establishment of reliable sources of products and materials needed to safeguard the health of front line workers and their patients".

The WMA has also agreed to develop a public health risk alert plan covering areas of communications, preventive measures for physicians and patients, best practice in terms of diagnostic and therapeutic methods and evidence-based travel advice for the public.

The plan is to be drawn up by a working group headed by the Canadian Medical Association, which, at the height of the Sars epidemic in Canada, managed to contact 26,000 physicians via e mail and the internet. The CMA described the World Medical Association's new resolution as "a wake up call to the world".

The WMA has now invited all national medical associations to share the lessons learned during the Sars epidemic by providing details of measures taken in their countries to strengthen the responsiveness of their public health systems.