Public Release: 

Realising the public health benefits of policies to tackle health security and other risks of mass gatherings -- a call to action

Lancet

In the sixth and final paper in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Series on mass gatherings health, a call to action is made to realise the public health benefits that tackling health security and other health risks at mass gatherings (MGs) will bring. The paper outlines several research priorities to ensure the development of effective policies and planning for such events.

"The development of effective methods for and improvement of planning and handling of the health risks associated with MGs will strengthen global health security, prevent excessive emergency health problems and associated economic loss, and mitigate potential societal disruption in host and home communities", explains John Tam from WHO, Geneva Switzerland, lead author of the paper.

Health risks associated with MGs threaten the health of human populations worldwide, particularly in low-income populations where there is inadequate access to interventions such as vaccines and antimicrobial drugs.

The authors note that evidence-based mitigation measures will offer an opportunity not only to reduce the adverse health consequences of MGs, but also deliver lasting improvements to the public health system and society as a whole. For example, the legacies of clinical and laboratory services and early warning surveillance for the past summer Olympics in Sydney, Athens, and Beijing are still regularly used.

But, they add that large gaps in existing knowledge about many health risks associated with MGs and which public-health interventions work best, coupled with a lack of international coordination to identify and fund research priorities for MG health, is hindering the planning and success of MGs.

The paper proposes implementing five key public health research directions which encompass methods to control public health and policy related to MGs:

  • Reducing the risk of public health emergencies during MGs through efforts such as building global capacity for health intelligence
  • Restricting the occurrence of non-communicable and communicable diseases, including developing evidence-based non-pharmaceutical interventions to control infection
  • Minimising effects of public health events by developing effective public health policy, illustrated by the smoke-free environment for the prevention of fire and recommendations for vaccination of pilgrims to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases during the Hajj
  • Optimising medical services and the treatment of diseases through efforts to improve and target the clinical management of patients and infection control including developing novel treatment strategies that can be used in low-resource areas and field conditions
  • The development and use of modern public health methods to reduce the effect of health problems including state-of-the-art approaches for the early detection and monitoring of diseases such as using mobile phones to gather and communicate information in real-time

Tam and colleagues conclude: "The results of this research can provide an evidence-based platform for policy decisions and practices to reduce the risks and effects of MG-associated health issues and global security risks to public health...[and] provide a platform to enable coordination, discussion, and interaction among the organisers of MGs, public health professionals, and researchers; and encourage a multidisciplinary approach to address gaps in knowledge about health risks associated with MGs and their control."

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Dr John Tam, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland. T) +41 2279 14231 E) tams@who.int

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