Pandemics may ravage the world again, warn the WHO | E, m, i, l, y, , s, h, e, s

“There is a growing risk that another pandemic could escalate into a public health emergency of international concern, and could pose a major threat to both human and economic health.” That’s from the World…

Pandemics may ravage the world again, warn the WHO | E, m, i, l, y, , s, h, e, s

“There is a growing risk that another pandemic could escalate into a public health emergency of international concern, and could pose a major threat to both human and economic health.”

That’s from the World Health Organization’s Global Health Security Agenda, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) published today. WHO’s report examines past public health crises and outlines a set of recommendations to prepare for epidemics that could easily infect millions. The recommendations include strengthening pandemic preparedness, working with partners to address how prevention, detection, and response will work in a major pandemic, and ultimately, helping to spread the word about the importance of staying well.

Pandemics have cost the world more than $2tn since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1918, the influenza pandemic that emerged in Europe killed about 100 million people. The Sars outbreak that struck in 2003 caused about 8,000 deaths worldwide, and caused vast economic damage, as the South Asian country of Singapore was forced to cancel work and travel, causing its economy to fall by more than a billion dollars.

Many people around the world have no knowledge about the next pandemic, and probably don’t have the resources to prepare for it. WHO says that those people include 1.3 billion people who have no formal access to healthcare, and that of the estimated 4.5 billion people who may be affected by a pandemic, fewer than 3 billion people know how to stop it from spreading. The WHO calls on countries to develop a public health disaster preparedness strategy to address what it says are a number of challenges. Those include rapid assessment of the public health needs, facilitating human resources for surveillance, communicating the risks and preventing misinformation, and improving the health systems that would manage and prevent the effects of a pandemic.

Just last week, WHO announced that it will end its controversial “secret” meetings on flu epidemics and the effects of the pandemic virus. Now, its Global Health Security Agenda reports are being made public. It has also launched a video to educate people on how they can protect themselves and their families from pandemics and about the steps they can take to stay well. That video can be seen below.

The video shows the enormous impact of an outbreak, says Dr Keiji Fukuda, head of the Department of Influenza, Pneumonia, and Environmental Health at WHO. “We have spoken to thousands of people across the globe as part of our Pandemic Preparedness Initiative,” he says. “Most of the findings have been very heartening. There is a growing risk that another pandemic could escalate into a public health emergency of international concern, and could pose a major threat to both human and economic health.”

In the report, the WHO uses the example of the Ebola outbreak in western Africa in 2013-2015. That epidemic killed an estimated 11,300 people, including hundreds of doctors and nurses, and the other footsoldiers who raced to stop the disease.

The WHO is well aware that the most effective ways to fight pandemics are still to be found. For example, the latest report goes on to describe the necessity of scaling up human resources for surveillance. It is crucial to have a large, rapid-response human response and to use advanced collection and transmission technologies, such as software that can rapidly report on outbreaks.

First published in ScienceDirect

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