Canadian Global Public Health Intelligence Network Official
Peter Conner grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He attended college in the United States, graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in Political Science. He has worked with the GPHIN since 1995.
. How would you define your organization’s mission?
The Global Public Health Intelligence Network was created in 1998 by Health Canada’s Laboratory Centre for Disease Control in collaboration with the WHO. The GPHIN provides reports of disease outbreaks to the WHO, governments and other public health leaders. We search global electronic media sources for important public health reports and pass them along to global health organizations and our other subscribers.
. How did the GPHIN discover reports of SARS?
We picked up reports of atypical influenza cases in Chinese newspapers from Guangdong province towards the end of November 2002. We relayed this information to the Canadian government, which in turn passed it on to the WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance Network. So I guess you could say we "broke the story" in some sense, at least to the health community outside China.
. What was the initial subsequent response by the GPHIN and WHO to the reports of atypical flu?
Well, things accelerated pretty quickly once the reports became public. The US government’s Global Emerging Infections and Surveillance Response System picked up Chinese media reports attributing the new infection to an Influenza B virus, and reported that to the WHO. On December 5th, WHO staff asked the Chinese Ministry of Health for information about the outbreaks. They didn’t get a response immediately, and asked again on the 11th. They heard back from the Ministry of Health the next day, which reported 23 cases of atypical infections, classifying 22 of them as Influenza B infections. The Ministry at that time maintained all the cases were consistent with usual seasonal outbreaks. We released a public report on January 21st, the first on the SARS outbreak in Guangdong province, though it was still just reported as atypical pneumonia at the time. We monitored the situation from our headquarters in Canada after that, but we worked kind of behind the scenes after the initial stages.
. What do you know about the SARS outbreak in Canada?
Well, let’s see. It was brought over to Canada from a carrier who had recently been to Hong Kong. That’s the scary thing about the ease of global travel when it comes to contagious diseases like SARS--the disease can be on the other side of the world and then be at your doorstep just a few hours later. Our health authorities were certainly surprised, but did everything they could to limit the outbreak’s spread. In all, and I actually have the figures right here, there were about 250 SARS cases in Canada, almost all of them in Toronto, of which 43 were fatal. That compares with nearly 300 deaths in Hong Kong and almost 350 in mainland China, although there’s no real way to verify the accuracy of that data. I can give you a copy of the reported cases if you’d like.