The Global Early Warning System (GLEWS) is a joint system that builds on the added value of combining and coordinating the alert and disease intelligence mechanisms of OIE, FAO and WHO for the international community and stakeholders to assist in prediction, prevention and control of animal disease threats, including zoonoses, through sharing of information, epidemiological analysis and joint risk assessment.
Early warning of outbreaks and the capacity for prediction of spread to new areas is an essential pre-requisite for the effective containment and control of epidemic animal diseases, including zoonoses. As experienced throughout much of the globe, weaknesses of disease surveillance systems and the inability to control major diseases at their source have contributed to the spread across geographical borders of diseases confined to livestock, such as foot-and-mouth disease, as well as diseases with a zoonotic potential, e.g. BSE and avian influenza.
Early Warning is based on the concept that dealing with a disease epidemic in its early stages is easier and more economical than having to deal with it once it is widespread. From a public health perspective, early warning of outbreaks with a known zoonotic potential will enable control measures that can prevent human morbidity and mortality. Also, new previously unknown human infectious diseases have emerged and will continue to emerge from the animal reservoir.
Several initiatives, at national and regional level have already been developed in the field of early warning. At the international level FAO, OIE and WHO have each developed Early Warning Systems that systematically collect, verify, analyse and respond to information from a variety of sources, including unofficial media reports and informal networks. In addition, the OIE and WHO mandates include official notification of disease or infection outbreaks to the international community within conditions determined by their Member Countries. FAO has a broad mandate to disseminate information, including all agricultural statistics, to Member Countries.
The Global Early Warning System for Major Animal Diseases, including Zoonoses (GLEWS), builds on the added value of combining the alert mechanisms of the different organizations, enhancing the Early Warning capacity for the benefit of the international community. Through sharing of information on disease alerts, unjustified duplication of efforts will be avoided and the verification processes of the three organizations will be combined and coordinated. For zoonotic events, alerts of animal outbreaks can provide direct early warning so that human surveillance could be enhanced and preventive action taken. Similarly, there may be cases where human surveillance is more sensitive and alerts of human cases precede known animal occurrence of disease.
On the other hand, sharing assessments of an ongoing outbreak will enable a joint and comprehensive analysis of the event and its possible consequences. Joint dissemination will furthermore allow harmonized communication by the three organizations regarding disease control strategies.
Disease intelligence generated by GLEWS directly feeds into and informs the respective mechanisms of the three organizations, which will be able to respond to a larger number and cover a wider range of outbreaks or exceptional epidemiological events with the provision of a wider range of expertise. This will improve international preparedness for epidemics and provide rapid, efficient and coordinated assistance to countries experiencing them.
GLEWS is based on the notion that infection does not recognize geographical nor species borders. For its zoonotic component it takes a stand in the shift in paradigm from independence to interdependence of agencies and professions involved in zoonotic control.