Olympic Games: WHO supports United Kingdom Health Protection Agency in securing public health


WHO/Europe expert Dr Ute Enderlein (centre) reviewing surveillance plans with Dr Brian McCloskey and Dr Tina Endericks of the Olympics Coordination Centre.

WHO is providing technical support to the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency (HPA) in enhancing disease surveillance and response during two upcoming mass gatherings in the United Kingdom: the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

HPA invited WHO experts to observe public health procedures put in place during the Games and to contribute to the assessment of public health risks that might affect the events. Five WHO experts, including Dr Ute Enderlein from WHO/Europe, are embedded on a rotating basis as liaison officers at the HPA’s Olympics Coordination Centre (OCC) throughout the Games.

HPA is a WHO collaborating centre on mass gatherings and high visibility/high consequence events. It is responsible for public health throughout the Games, including in the areas of media and communications, national and international surveillance and outbreak response. During the Games, it will play a key role in ensuring that the health of visitors and participants is protected from infectious diseases and environmental hazards.

WHO is supporting HPA by:

  • mobilizing WHO’s advisory network on mass gatherings to have at hand technical expertise and experience to address any uncertainties around public health at mass gatherings;
  • contributing to the risk assessment of acute public health events under the International Health Regulations; and
  • facilitating the maximum positive impact from the investments made in health systems’ capacity in preparation for the Games.

Preparedness, surveillance and response

WHO has worked closely with HPA in preparation for the Games by assessing the preparedness of England’s health system for crises; the assessment report includes recommendations on how best to increase England’s capacity for mass gatherings and extreme events.

Four weeks before the official start of the Olympic Games in London, HPA enhanced its programme on disease surveillance and response and its laboratory services. The programme covers the whole country and is intended to detect, analyse and eradicate, as soon as possible, public and environmental health threats before, during and after the Games.

More than 10000 athletes will participate in the Olympic Games, which open on 27 July. Another 4200 will take part in the Paralympic Games, starting on 29 August. 9 million tickets are expected to be sold for various sporting and cultural events across the country.

Dr Enderlein complemented the daily work of the HPA Olympics Coordination Centre’s public health surveillance and risk assessment/management system. Before, during and after the Games, HPA is collecting information on a daily basis about the occurrence of acute communicable disease outbreaks and other public and environmental health threats. These data are collected from across the country and, for the first time, from inside the Olympic village. The analysis of those data forms the basis for daily reports on the public health situation that the OCC produces for the Government of the United Kingdom for decision making and shares with experts in WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Dr Brian McCloskey, leader of the OCC team and HPA’s responsible officer for the London 2012 Games, said: “These new and enhanced systems will provide the first indication of emerging infections in the community and hospitals if they are to occur. Our experts will analyse surveillance data daily to identify issues of public health significance that could have implications for the Games. We will be providing expert advice to clinicians, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and Government on how to respond to and limit any threat to public health.”

Other activities in this collaboration include:

  • coordination of the London 2012 International Observer Programme for Mass Gatherings;
  • coordination and improvement of the WHO online Planning and Assessment Tool for mass gatherings preparedness during Olympic and Paralympic Games;
  • a survey and assessment of geographic information systems  and information and communication technology resources in the context of mass gatherings; and
  • production of an e-learning course ("Introduction to public health at mass gatherings") and pilot testing at the London 2012 International Observer Programme.

HPA, WHO and ECDC will jointly publish a weekly bulletin during the London 2012 Games on their web sites. WHO will incorporate the lessons learned into its advice on preparations for future mass gatherings.