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Originally published January 5 2008

WHO warns of high risk of global epidemic from emerging diseases

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The world remains at great risk of infectious disease epidemics and pandemics, and new diseases are emerging at an "historically unprecedented" rate, according to an annual report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report, titled "A Safer Future," says that never before have new diseases developed at such a high rate, averaging more than one per year. Since the 1970s, the WHO has identified 39 new diseases, including Ebola, SARS, bird flu, Nipahvirus and Marburg hemorrhagic fever.

With the ever-increasing pace of global transportation, diseases are also spreading faster than ever. The WHO says that with 2.1 billion airline passengers per year, the risk of a new major epidemic is high. Diseases such as cholera, epidemic meningococcal disease and yellow fever have made comebacks, while new diseases such as bird flu have the potential to infect as much as 25 percent of global population. Poor medical practices, such as misuse of antibiotics, also make the emergence of drug-resistant strains ever more likely.

"It would be extremely naive and complacent to assume that there will not be another disease like AIDS, another Ebola or another SARS, sooner or later," the report says.

The WHO has recorded more than 1,100 epidemics worldwide in just the last five years, including bird flu, cholera and polio.

The report urged both rich and poor governments to share information, skills and technology with each other.

"Given today's universal vulnerability to these threats, better security calls for global solidarity," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. "International public health security is both a collective aspiration and a mutual responsibility."

Many countries have been reluctant to share information with the WHO or other countries, for fear that the information will be used to their detriment. Indonesia, for example, has refused to hand over samples of the H5N1 avian flu, claiming that pharmaceutical companies will just use the information to develop and patent costly vaccines that the poor of Indonesia cannot afford.

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