Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerged in a world where information about infectious disease outbreaks travels at speeds and in ways not imagined just 30 years ago, and where scientists are increasingly working together on detecting and responding to public health events that threaten international public health and economic security. The SARS outbreak clearly demonstrated that it is no longer the exclusive privilege of countries to report and respond to infectious diseases occurring in their own territories, but that the global community has also assumed this role, aided by the ease and power of electronic communication through the World Wide Web. This phenomenon has been cited by some scholars as a potential infringement on national sovereignty that compromises the concept that states reign supreme over their territories and peoples. At the same time, however, countries are increasingly seeking to collaborate internationally in infectious disease surveillance and response, as shown in the current situation of avian influenza (H5N1), and in the formal agreement leading to the revised International Health Regulations (IHR), suggesting that a new world order prevails over issues that once had been considered the sole domain of a sovereign nation.
The majority of the world’s information about infectious disease outbreaks no longer comes from voluntary reporting by countries, the willingness of which is influenced by fears of severe decreases in travel, tourism and trade as a result of aggressive protective measures undertaken by other countries. It now comes from real-time electronic communications and the World Wide Web, available simultaneously to all with online computer access.
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