Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in southern China in November 2002 and spread rapidly along international air routes in early 2003. Asian countries had the most cases (7,782) and deaths (729). SARS challenged Asian health care systems, disrupted Asian economies, and tested the effectiveness of the International Health Regulations. GAO was asked to examine the roles of the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. government, and Asian governments (China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan) in responding to SARS; the estimated economic impact of SARS in Asia; and efforts to update the International Health Regulations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Health and Human Services||To strengthen the international response, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Secretary of State, should work with WHO and official representatives from other WHO member states to strengthen WHO's global infectious disease network capacity to respond to disease outbreaks, for example, by expanding the available pool of public health experts.|
|Department of Health and Human Services||To help Health and Human Services prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of infectious diseases into the United States, the Secretary of HHS should complete the necessary steps to ensure that the agency can obtain passenger contact information in a timely and comprehensive manner, including, if necessary, the promulgation of regulations specifically for this purpose.|
|Department of State||To protect U.S. government employees and their families working overseas and to better support other U.S. citizens living or traveling overseas, we recommend that the Secretary of State should continue to work with the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Defense to identify public and private sector resources for medical evacuations during infectious disease outbreaks and develop procedures for arranging these evacuations. Such efforts could include (1) working with private air ambulance companies and the Department of Defense to determine their capacity for transporting patients with an emerging infectious disease such as SARS, and (2) working to develop agreements under which U.S. medical facilities near international ports of entry will accept medically evacuated patients with infectious diseases such as SARS.|