A $500,000 emergency fund to boost the global response to infectious disease outbreaks - whether naturally occurring or from the release of biological weapons - was set up jointly today by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
The fund, which was announced in Washington by WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland and NTI co-chair and former United States Senator Sam Nunn, will ensure that response teams can be on the ground within 24 hours of a detected outbreak anywhere across the globe.
Stressing the vital need to contain new cases of disease in their early stages, Dr. Brundtland said the fund would enable WHO to provide medical experts and equipment to affected areas immediately.
Mr. Nunn called attention to the nexus between health and security. “Diseases don’t recognize national boundaries,” he said. “In today’s global world, it is in our own health and security interest to immediately contain an outbreak wherever it occurs.”
The new fund marks the first time that contingency resources are being made readily available to respond to international public health emergencies. Mobilizing international teams and materials such as vaccines, drugs and supplies normally required pledges of support from donors, according to WHO, which said that with limited funds available for humanitarian crises, precious time was lost before firm pledges became funding for operations.
The agency said the new fund would ensure a more rapid response to epidemic meningitis, yellow fever outbreaks and viral haemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola. It is considered a key element of the WHO-coordinated Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, which operates 24 hours a day, gathering and assessing intelligence on outbreaks and rumours of disease.