Time for revision

Inter-state travel has soared over the years along with the advent of fast and frequent travel habits of the modern world. But so has the risk posed by contagious diseases. Globe-trotters are more likely to catch up hostile germs at one place and transmit it to another. This danger was best highlighted by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in East and South-east Asia last year. Countries in the region, including Nepal, geared up to fight the diseases in case it hitch-hiked a ride. SARS-triggered loss worth several billions of dollars on the international market notwithstanding, the looming spectre prodded governments around the globe to give a fresh look to existing disease control regulations. Similarly, in order to remain alert and equipped in the event of a worst-case communicable disease outbreak, a consultation workshop on International Health Regulations (IHR) is reviewing the gamut of laws to strengthen the united fight against such diseases.

Regulations like the IHR are instrumental in fighting scourges that might emerge both in and outside the country. This is relevant to Nepal during the monsoon season as diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera have already affected thousands of Nepalis this summer alone. It is essential for hospitals in the country to brace up to contain these maladies. But it is equally important to revise the existing regulations to make them responsive to changes brought about by the threat of resurgent infectious diseases. Thankfully, this is exactly what the interaction programme intends to do. The IHR at present prescribes regulations for mainly three diseases, namely, cholera, plague and yellow fever. The threat posed by other diseases such as bird-flu and SARS outbreaks in the past in the neighbourhood cannot be underestimated. Hence the need for incorporating response mechanisms and recommended measures during emergencies.

Isolated efforts will not be enough to deal with an epidemic scare. The best way to protect populations from such health emergencies is to agree on global regulations and help address the shared threat. Nepal must introduce relevant but necessary changes without delay. It is also imperative to stay armed and equipped to tackle a disease head on. Mock rehearsals like the SARS simulation exercise conducted at Teku Hospital last year will provide the hospital staff the idea of approach and solution beforehand. As gastroenteritis threat is at large this season, hospitals must remain in a state of readiness. That some 34 people have already succumbed to these diseases makes the recommendations all the more relevant. But the fight must be made congruent with similar global efforts.