Being Better Prepared for the Next Pandemic
While it may not be possible to mitigate every risk, there are certainly ways that countries can work together to fortify health systems and reduce the chances of a pandemic like the coronavirus from happening again.
Strong, well-funded health systems, supported by immunization programs and robust early warning systems that alert us to new diseases, are all factors in reducing risk. Having these elements in place is known as “epidemic preparedness” in the global health community (Global Citizen).
There have been at least four other viral pathogens that have emerged in the human population so far this century. Investment in prevention may well be the best insurance policy for human health and the global economy in the future.
Two major factors loom large as drivers of emerging pathogens: destruction of tropical forests and the wildlife trade. Each has contributed two of the four emerging diseases that have appeared in the last 50 years: COVID, Ebola, SARS, HIV.
Both deforestation and the wildlife trade also cause widespread damage to the environment on multiple fronts, so there are diverse benefits associated with reducing them. Increased monitoring and policing of these activities would allow future emerging viruses to be detected at a much earlier stage, when control could prevent further spread (Science Daily).
Additionally, a completely underfunded and unorganized healthcare system left America completely unprepared for a pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that the U.S. health care system is in bad shape; it is both overdeveloped and underdeveloped, creating a confusing pattern of excellence and profound failure. America needs a medical microgrid focused on treating patients where they are. Without locally focused care, doctors will continue to fail those who need them most (Foreign Policy).
Reworking America's current healthcare system so that health care can be delivered at home and in communities, being pushed to people when they need it by local teams, instead of this reliance on regional hospitals at a center and satellite clinics in a starburst pattern around it.
Making universal healthcare more affordable for ALL people, including minorities, impoverished, and struggling communities. Many people avoid healthcare altogether because they can't afford the diagnostic care, let alone the treatment to follow.
The expansion and development of better ways to monitor and regulate the wildlife trade could be done for around $500 million a year, which is a trivial cost when compared with the current costs of COVID, especially considering the add-on benefits such as curbing wildlife consumption and sustaining biodiversity.
Any pandemic can cause devastation, but COVID-19 has a higher mortality in people with diabetes, obesity, and heart disease and among older adults. Its secondary impacts on the economy also intensify the risk of deaths of despair (by suicide and addiction) or other causes. For most people, chronic conditions come in twos and threes. They take decades to set in and reverberate across generations. The prevalence of chronic conditions in the U.S. population was already projected to grow substantially over the next decade, a burden disproportionately borne by the poor and working class, particularly devastating for people of color, and intensifying for all with age (Foreign Policy).
Thus far, COVID-19 has cost at least $2.6 trillion and may cost ten times this amount. It is the largest global pandemic in 100 years. Six months after emerging, it has killed over 600,000 people and is having a major impact on the global economy (Science Daily).
We may see the costs of COVID soar to beyond $8 to $15 trillion with many millions of people unemployed and living under lockdown (Science Daily).
The annual cost of preventing future outbreaks is roughly comparable to 1 to 2% of annual military spending by the world's 10 wealthiest countries. If we view the continuing battle with emerging pathogens such as COVID-19 as a war we all have to win, then the investment in prevention seems like exceptional value (Science Daily).
Global and public health organizations
National and international global and public health organizations
Intergovernmental economic organizations
Intergovernmental alliances and coalitions
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
World Health Organization (WHO)
Invest in Research and Preparation
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified a list of diseases considered priorities for further research called the R&D Blueprint. One of the diseases listed was called 'Disease X,' denoting the anticipation by the World Health Organization of a new, unknown illness.
“‘Disease X’ represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease,” the WHO report explained at the time. “The R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable early cross-cutting R&D [research and development] preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown ‘Disease X.’”
Research and preparedness also require organizations to develop surveillance systems for collecting data and forecasting epidemics (Global Citizen). The collection and sharing of data can be done more effectively following COVID-19.
While diseases start in some of the poorest, farthest flung places in the developing world, the science to understand and analyze these threats is largely confined to centers in the rich world – in the US, Europe and Japan – that focus on threats once they have arisen.
Global Viral (GV) fills that gap by creating an extensive network of viral “listening posts” in villages from Sierra Leone to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and compiling a registry of viruses in other regions where pandemics often originate.
Fund and Continue to Implement Vaccine Programs
Large scale vaccine programs with government support and funding are generally effective in developing a vaccine that curbs the spread of disease. Vaccination also helps minimize the likelihood that hospital systems become overwhelmed by treating patients with symptoms of preventable disease.
“Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective health interventions ever developed, any way you look at it, from either an economic or humanitarian viewpoint,” - Oliver Rosenbauer, Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GEPI).
Without a clear and measured investment in infectious disease monitoring, and a renewed way of thinking about our current healthcare systems, the world will be left vulnerable to another pandemic before we have even recovered from the current strain.
Global Citizen, 'How to Prevent a COVID-19 Pandemic from Happening Again,' - https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/how-prevent-covid-19-pandemic-happening-again/
Science Daily, Prevent ing the Next Pandemic - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200723172208.htm
Foreign Policy, 'Why the U.S. Healthcare System Failed the Coronavirus Test,' - https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/12/why-us-health-care-system-fail-coronavirus-test-cant-handle-covid19/
National Institute of Health - https://www.fic.nih.gov/ResearchTopics/Pages/infectiousdiseases-coronavirus-cov.aspx
Giving Tech Labs Team - giving.tech