Future pandemics: We must batten down the hatches - GulfToday

Future pandemics: We must batten down the hatches


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The coronavirus pandemic seems to be going beyond control in some countries as the casualty list keeps going north. It has killed at least 936,095 people worldwide since surfacing in China late last year. More than 29.6 million cases have been confirmed.

The United States has the most deaths with 195,961, followed by Brazil with 133,119, India with 82,066, Mexico 71,678 and Britain 41,664.

India is fast moving towards the no.1 spot globally in virus cases as its total number of infections pass five million.

Nurses in particular are paying a heavy price: more than a thousand nurses are known to have died worldwide due to COVID-19, the International Council of Nurses says, adding that the real figure is likely far higher.

The ICN brands the situation “catastrophic” and lambasts governments for not doing enough to protect front-line health care workers during the pandemic. However, what is alarming is that the world is totally unprepared for future pandemics, should they rear their heads in future.

As the world grapples with the devastating coronavirus pandemic, it is doing far too little to prepare for future, possibly even more damaging pandemics, a global health monitor warned.

In a fresh report, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), an independent body created by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, decried that the coronavirus pandemic had revealed how little the world had focused on preparing for such disasters, despite ample warnings that large disease outbreaks were inevitable.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is providing a harsh test of the world’s preparedness,” the report said, concluding that little progress had been made on any of the actions it had called for in its initial report last year, before COVID-19 struck.

“Failure to learn the lessons of COVID-19 or to act on them with the necessary resources and commitment will mean that the next pandemic, which is sure to come, will be even more damaging,” it warned.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, GPMB co-chair and a former WHO chief, stressed during the virtual launch of the report that the board had warned a year ago that the world was ill prepared for a pandemic.

Tragically and catastrophically the worst fears have been realised.

“The impact of COVID-19 is even worse than we anticipated, but actions that we called for last year, have still not been taken.”

Under the circumstances it is time to break the “cycle of panic and neglect” that had unleashed the “catastrophic” consequences of COVID-19. It urged the UN, the WHO and international financial institutions like the World Bank to convene a summit on the global health emergency, aimed at agreeing on an international framework for emergency preparedness and response. The framework should include among other things a “mechanism” to ensure “sustainable, predictable financing on the scale that is required,” Brundtland said.

Estimates of the cost of prevention and preparedness are measured in billions of dollars, but the cost of a pandemic is measured in trillions. Current WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus agreed, telling the virtual event that “spending on health and preparedness is not charity. It is an investment in our future.”

Not investing in preparedness, he said, is “as if we wait for the plane to crash and then call for more safety inspections; we wait until the town burns down, then decide we need a fire department.”

This much is very likely: theCOVID-19 will not be the last pandemic, nor the last global health emergency. “Every day that we stand by and do nothing is a day that brings us closer to the next global health emergency, whether from a disease outbreak, climate change or a natural or self-inflicted disaster,” he said.

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