UK health officials launch new infectious disease strategy

Research technician
Research technician

Dan Naylor, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine / Flickr cc

In response to rising antibiotic resistance, the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases, and the spread of novel pathogens around the globe, Public Health England (PHE) yesterday announced a new 5-year strategy aimed at strengthening the agency's ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases.

The strategy includes a focus on containment and control of antibiotic-resistant infections. PHE said its national reference laboratory has identified 19 novel antibiotic-resistance mechanisms from patient clinical samples in the United Kingdom over the past decade, and 32 bacterial samples that were resistant to all antibiotics over the last 5 years.

PHE also said 12 emerging infectious diseases were detected for the first time in England in the past decade, including MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus), monkeypox, pandemic H1N1 flu, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and Zika virus. The infections were mainly acquired abroad, highlighting the amplified threat posed by increased movement of people and by climate change.

"Despite our arsenal of vaccines and antimicrobials, infectious disease remains a real threat to public health. We are constantly faced with new threats, and anti-microbial resistance is growing," Chris Whitty, incoming chief medical officer for England, said in an agency news release. "This new strategy will enable us to detect and prevent new threats as they arise, keeping us safe from potentially devastating consequences."

Strategic priorities

The new strategy is built around six core functions—prevent and protect, detect and control, prepare and respond, build and apply, advise and collaborate, generate and share—that PHE says will enable it to deliver 10 strategic priorities. Those priorities include reducing vaccine-preventable diseases, becoming a global leader in tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and enhancing infectious disease surveillance capability.

PHE says it hopes to reduce vaccine-preventable disease by improving uptake of existing vaccines and implementing new and improved vaccines. As part of this effort, boys in school year 8 will be offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for the first time. PHE is also launching a "Value of Vaccines" social media campaign to help maintain trust in vaccination.

Efforts to fight AMR will include a 15% reduction in antibiotic use by the National Health Service, development of new interventions to prevent bacterial infections, improving infection control to reduce transmission of resistant bacteria, and campaigns to raise awareness about misuse of antibiotics and AMR risks. In addition, new technologies that can help control outbreaks and improve diagnosis and treatment of bacterial infections, including whole-genome sequencing, will be optimized.

Other strategic priorities outlined in the plan include eliminating hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and HIV; halting the rise in sexually transmitted infections; bolstering the response to major infectious disease outbreaks, such as pandemic flu; and strengthening global health activities to prevent the spread of emerging infections.

See also:

Sep 11 PHE Infectious Diseases Strategy 2020-2025

Sep 11 PHE news release

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