Travel-Related Health Risks: A Question of Communication

  • J.-P. Jardel


Communication between people through international tourism, labour migration and other types of travel has increased tremendously in the past decades, both in volume and in speed, at the same time increasing opportunities for the communication of disease, from minor ailments afflicting the traveller himself to major infectious diseases threatening public health.

The International Health Regulations adopted by the 166 Member States of the World Health Organization aim at protecting individuals and preventing the international spread of disease, with minimum interference with world traffic. However, regulations and preventive and protective measures can only be effective if supported by an adequate system for the communication of information. It is the responsibility of national health administrations to establish communicable disease surveillance and control programmes, to inform the international community, the health professionals and the general public of health risks associated with travel to given places and to advise on the general and specific preventive measures to be applied. The World Health Organization plays a major coordinating role in this communication chain, butthe value of the information the Organization can provide depends on the timeliness and quality of the information received from countries.

In our world of increasing communication facilities, more and more people are travelling greater distances. International tourism has increased from 130 million to 350 million tourist arrivals in the last 2 decades. The majority travel to European countries but the rate of increase in travellers to Africa, Asia and the Pacific is impressive. Developing countries are now receiving about 20% of international tourists. The development of air transport has resulted in speedier travel, making it more possible than ever for the traveller to return to his point of departure within the incubation period of a disease contracted abroad. To travel related to international tourism must be added international migration due to pilgrimages, search for employment, and travel within national boundaries, which is difficult to assess.

Tourism is about to become the world’s largest single industry and its economic impact is considerable. It offers ample opportunities for social and cultural exchange. It is also expected to be a health promotion activity. Unfortunately, travellers are exposed to health risks and they may become vectors of health risks to others.

The protection of public health against the risks from international travel was in fact at the very origin of international cooperation in the field of health. In 1851, the first international health conference ever convened dealt with the problem of harmonizing preventive measures against the spread of communicable diseases through maritime traffic in the Mediterranean, and particularly considered quarantine measurs applied to cholera, plague and yellow fever. The following 100 years witnessed a series of conventions and arrangements relating to health control measures at frontiers. International health cooperation developed on this basis and progressively entered other fields of interest. The present World Health Organization (WHO) may be seen as the distant relative of this first health conference.


Yellow Fever International Health International Tourism International Travel Minor Ailment 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1989

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  • J.-P. Jardel

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