The UK's House of Lords has warned that a bird flu pandemic could kill 75,000 Britons and as many as 50 million people worldwide.
A new and potentially deadly infectious disease emerges somewhere in the world every year, threatening "devastating consequences" across the globe, warns the Lords intergovernmental organisations committee. Its report, published today, criticises Britain's "poorly coordinated" disease control systems.
Reform of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is "essential", as the global health agency is "dysfunctional" and lacking the organisation and resources to curb a major outbreak, it says.
The committee calls for new international disease surveillance systems in developing countries. The report says peers were given the following "sobering" advice by government ministers: "While there has not been a pandemic since 1968, another one is inevitable … Estimates are that the next pandemic will kill between 2 million and 50 million people worldwide and between 50,000 and 75,000 in the UK. Socio-economic disruption will be massive."
Three-quarters of new human diseases originate from animals, but experts have warned they are currently identified only after people are infected. The committee chairman, Lord Soley, said: "The last 100 years have seen great advances in public health and disease control through the world, but globalisation and changes in lifestyles are giving rise to new infections and providing opportunities for them to spread rapidly.
"We are particularly concerned about the link with animal health."
You can find the complete 79 page PDF report here. The World Health Organization (WHO) monitors the latest outbreaks of the bird flu virus (H5N1) around the world. You can follow their reports here.