Overseas infectious diseases of priority concern

This factsheet presents information on overseas infectious diseases of priority concern. These include Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEICs) and severe exotic respiratory diseases.

Public Health Emergencies of International Concern

 As of January 2021, COVID-19 and Polio are the current Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEICs). WHO lifted the Ebola PHEIC declaration in Kivu, Africa, in June 2020 (Figure 1) [1].

Figure 1: Summary of PHEICs since 2005

Summary of PHEIC

Source: [2]

COVID-19 declared a PHEIC in 2020

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the respiratory illness responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease first emerged in Wuhan, China (PRC) in late 2019 and quickly spread to most countries and territories [3]. The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, and fatigue. About 80% of people who develop symptoms will recover without needing hospital treatment [3]. The Western Pacific Region, which includes New Zealand, reported the lowest cumulative case and death rates of all WHO regions in 2020. The Region of the Americas followed by the European Region reported the highest case and death rates in 2020 (Figure 2).

 Figure 2: COVID-19 deaths per 1 million population, 2020

Figure 1 COVID 19

 Source: [4]

Polio remained a PHEIC in 2020

Polio is a viral disease that can cause severe neurological disability and sometimes death. It is preventable, and there is a global goal to eradicate it from the world using the polio vaccine [5]. From 2016-2020, the geographic spread of wild polio was limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan (Figure 3). Vaccine derived Polio is a form of poliovirus occurring in places where vaccination coverage is low. The ‘weakened’ virus in the oral Polio vaccine, may pass between unimmunized people, mutating and regaining the ability to cause disease [6].  Vaccine derived polio increased both cases and geographic spread, particularly in central Africa and since 2019 (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Counts of wild and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus, 2016-2020

 Figure 2 Polio

Source: [7]

Four recent respiratory diseases of particular concern were detected in the world, 2016–2020

Measles, five types of serious non-seasonal influenza (‘Flu’) viruses, and two serious coronaviruses of priority border health concern were reported between 2016 and 2020 [1].


1. World Health Organization. 2021. Global Alert Response (GAR). (Accessed February 2021). Available from: http://www.who.int/csr/resources/publications/en/

2. WHO. n.d. IHR Emergency Committees. URL: https://www.who.int/ihr/procedures/ihr_committees/en/(accessed February 2021).

3. WHO. 2020. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). URL: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19 (accessed February 2021)

4. WHO. 2021.Weekly epidemiological update. URL: https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/weekly-epidemiological-update---5-january-2021(accessed February 2021)

5. WHO. 2016. Poliomyelitis. URL: www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs114/en/(accessed July 2016).

6. WHO. 2019. Polio outbreak -The Philippines. URL: https://www.who.int/csr/don/24-september-2019-polio-outbreak-the-philippines/en/ (accessed February 2021)

7. WHO. 2021. Extranet polio database. URL:https://extranet.who.int/polis/public/CaseCount.aspx. (accessed February 2021).

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