Are We Completely Unprepared for a Disease Pandemic? Experts Are Saying Yes


disease pandemic

If someone told you a dangerous flu pandemic could spread across the world in just three days and kill upwards of 80 million people, would you believe them?

A group of experts in a first-ever released report from the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board is saying that this exact scenario is entirely possible and that, as a planet, we’re simply not ready for something like this to happen [1].

The group of 15 experts is led by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway and the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Dr. Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The goal of the board is to assess the world’s ability to protect itself from health emergencies, identify gaps in preparedness, and advocate for preparedness.

So why aren’t we sufficiently prepared to handle an epidemic or pandemic—and what can we do about it?

Outbreaks Are Difficult to Manage in Vulnerable Areas

Influenza, better known as the flu, is one such disease that could cause a devastating pandemic. In fact, even when it’s not an epidemic, the flu kills up to half a million people worldwide every year [2].

But influenza certainly isn’t the only disease. There’s, of course, our friend Ebola, which has a death rate of up to 90 percent, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (otherwise known as SARS), which is a severe form of pneumonia [3].

The report notes that diseases such as these are especially prone to outbreaks in areas that see frequent conflict and immigration. Why is this?

Immigration, of course, is self-explanatory. An influx of new people into a country could easily mean one of them is bringing an unknown infectious agent with them.

In areas of conflict, there seems to be a spread of misinformation and distrust between communities and officials. This distrust and misinformation can lead people to not only not seek medical care, but to discourage others from doing so and even—as we’ve seen with the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo—attack medical personnel who are there to help those who are infected [4].

“Ebola, cholera, measles—the most severe disease outbreaks usually occur in places with the weakest health systems,” said WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “As leaders of nations, communities, and international agencies, we must take responsibility for emergency preparedness, and heed the lessons these outbreaks are teaching us. We have to ‘fix the roof before the rain comes’”.

Approaches So Far Haven’t Been Focused on Prevention

The report also notes that the changing climate (temperatures getting warmer) and urbanization along with lack of sanitation and clean water can make it easy for diseases to spread quickly.

We’ve already seen how melting ice can revive diseases that have been trapped for centuries [5]. And it’s no surprise that increasing urbanization—today, nearly 4 billion people worldwide live in urban centers—can lead to challenges in controlling the spread of disease [6]

Diseases spread faster in cities—it’s that simple. Poor housing, inadequate water supply and sanitation, including waste management, can lead to an ideal setting for rodents and insects to carry pathogens, not to mention contaminated water and close contact between people in city settings. Cities are potential “hot spots” for infections to spread, particularly respiratory viruses such as SARS [6].

Co-leader of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland chimed in: “For too long, world leaders’ approaches to health emergencies have been characterized by a cycle of panic and neglect. It is high time for urgent and sustained action.” 

While the report notes that poverty and vulnerable communities can accelerate outbreaks, it also notes that stronger healthcare systems and preparedness can work to prevent such a devastating spread of disease. So what can we do?

Taking Seven Steps to Preparedness

The report outlines seven “urgent actions” we can take to help communities and governments around the world be more prepared against the next epidemic or pandemic. Here’s what they suggest:

  1. Commit and invest. Heads of government must commit to and invest in preparedness, prioritizing and dedicating resources to achieve their goals.
  2. Follow through. Countries and local organizations must follow through with their commitments and monitor their progress, therefore leading by example.
  3. Build trust. Countries must establish and maintain strong systems for effective preparedness, prioritizing community involvement and trust in all efforts.
  4. Prepare for the worst. People must be prepared for the worst. Nations must be invested in developing medical interventions to such diseases (albeit without animals, thank you very much), and have an established way to share new information and interventions with other countries.
  5. Figure out financing. Financing institutions such as the World Bank must include preparedness in their financial risk planning. Disease is expensive and financing institutions need to be prepared as well!
  6. Increase funding. We have to increase funding for preparedness. This funding should be reserved for the poorest and most vulnerable countries to close their financing gaps for health security as a global public good.
  7. Strengthen coordination. The United Nations must strengthen their coordination across different contexts, mobilizing all communities at earlier stages of an outbreak prior to an epidemic becoming a worldwide concern.

The report did note that as of July of this year, 59 countries had developed a plan for action in the event of an outbreak, but unfortunately, not one of them is completely funded.

Where Does This All Leave Us?

It leaves us struggling to understand what it’s going to take for our nations’ leaders to come together to create some type of plan, even if it’s imperfect at best, to protect its people against the severe consequences of an outbreak.

People need to know how to respond under such circumstances. We can’t predict what type of outbreak the future will bring: Ebola, an unknown strain of the flu, SARS, or another unknown agent. But we can have a better idea of how to react, how to fund such a situation, and to build trust now before it’s too late.

As co-leader of the board Dr. Elhadj As Sy said, “The trust between communities and the institutions that serve them is at the core of emergency response, but it is almost impossible to build trust in the middle of a crisis.”

The post Are We Completely Unprepared for a Disease Pandemic? Experts Are Saying Yes appeared first on The Hearty Soul.


Source link

Join our list

Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.