Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Letter from the World Health Organization (WHO)

  The note of our January meeting (see page 390) reflects the spirit of the excellent collaboration and assistance we receive from the British Government, its institutions and scientists. This collaboration is well illustrated by the current SARS outbreak:

  1.  Open and transparent reporting from the UK on each and every case of SARS

  2.  Daily technical contact with all levels of the UK Health Protection Agency

  3.  The UK is fully committed to the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) collaboration on SARS with clinicians in the clinical network, epidemiologists in the epidemiology network and laboratories in the laboratory network

  4.  The UK had already before SARS seconded three staff members to work in the Global Alert and Response (CDS/CSR/GAR) team who are now playing a vital role in the WHO SARS response

  5.  The UK has offered laboratorians, clinicians, epidemiologists, infection control experts and media specialists to GOARN for the response. UK experts have been and are in the field, in Vietnam, China (Beijing, Guandong, Shanghai, Hong Kong SAR)

  6.  Further support from the UK is arriving for building up our Dangerous and New Pathogens core competency. In addition another staff member has been seconded from the Health Protection Agency to co-ordinate the global SARS modelling initiative.

  As you will recall, the point we made at the January meeting concerns our hope that the UK could set up a system to finance short-term international assignments for British scientists, perhaps through a single interface by which such contributions could be facilitated. At present WHO tends to fund travel and subsistence allowance for experts and in the majority of cases the sending institution covers salary. However, this places a stress on the sending institution and in some cases WHO is asked to provide this salary support—we always try to do this where funds are available, but this can slow down our ability to get the expert urgently to wherever he/she is needed. Perhaps a dedicated international unit at the Health Protection Agency could be set up to provide a funding and co-ordination base for such international activities and/or there could be a regular contribution made to WHO to fund British scientists/institutions in international response.

  We met recently with representatives of the Department of Health who were visiting WHO to discuss the forthcoming World Health Assembly. The topic of the UK's collaboration with WHO came up in the discussions. As indicated above, we are extremely pleased with this collaboration. The UK has contributed greatly to the development and implementation of the WHO Global Alert and Response activities and the support by the Department for International Development has been vital in both establishing the operational mechanisms and in launching the process for the revision of the International Health Regulations. The contribution of British experts to the global containment of SARS has been very much appreciated and we hope that a mechanism, such as described above, can be established whereby this co-operation can be further enhanced and formalised.

  I hope that these additional comments will be useful for your Committee. If there is any further information that you require, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Dr David L Heymann

Executive Director

Communicable Diseases

World Health Organization

19 May 2003

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