April 22, 2013
1 min read

SARS 10 years later: Gaps in global capacity, coordination remain

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A decade has passed since WHO issued its first global alert about an unknown illness outbreak that killed nearly 800 people across the globe.

“The anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the international response to this new global microbial threat,” CDC researchers wrote. “While global surveillance and response capacity for public health threats have been strengthened, critical gaps remain.”

In 2003, 8,098 people worldwide became sick with what is now known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and 774 people died in more than 30 countries. Only eight people in the United States had laboratory evidence of SARS-associated coronavirus infection, all of whom had traveled to other parts of the world infected with SARS.

After the SARS outbreak, many reports were written, recommendations made and steps taken in response to lessons learned. In 2005, 194 WHO member states approved updates to the International Health Regulations (IHR) Treaty, and it went into effect in 2007. However, by the June 2012 deadline, less than 20% of the member states achieved compliance with the core capacities required, which include:

  • Compliance must be strengthened to ensure adequate numbers of personnel are available in the case of a public health emergency;
  • Surveillance systems can detect them;
  • Access is available to library diagnostic capabilities that can identify emerging epidemic pathogens; and
  • Countries have appropriate rapid response systems in place in the case of public health emergencies.

“As we reflect on the lessons learned from the global SARS outbreak, we need to avoid complacency; strengthen efforts to improve global capacity to address the next pandemic using all available 21st century tools; and support research to develop new options, countermeasures, and insights,” researchers wrote. “At the same time, we must strive to address the global inequities that are the root cause of many of these challenges.”

For more information:

CDC. MMWR. 2013;doi:10.3201/eid1906.130192.

CDC. SARS. 2004. Available at: www.cdc.gov.sars/about/fs-SARS.pdf. Accessed April 18, 2013.

CDC. Remembering SARS 10 years later. Available at: www.cdc.gov/media/dpk/2013-sars-10th-ann.html. Accessed April 18, 2013.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.