The former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has warned the world it must prepare itself for the possibility of a different pandemic that could claim significantly more lives than Covid-19.
Dr Tom Frieden, who headed the CDC for eight years until 2017, said in an article for the Wall Street Journal that mistakes from this pandemic must shape our preparation for what is to come in the future.
"The world wasn’t ready for Covid-19. Will we be ready for the next, inevitable pandemic?" he asked.
"Now is the time to get ready and to realise that the costs of preparedness will be dwarfed by the price of disaster."
In a hypothetical situation, he warned a new influenza pandemic could start at any time, and be "even deadlier".
He also listed other "nightmare scenarios" that could bring the world to its knees once again, including the emergence of Ebola-like illnesses or drug-resistant bacterium.
How the world should prepare for next pandemic
Dr Frieden identified several key aspects nations must improve on urgently if they are to be ready for the next pandemic.
“We must act now: 2021 is the now-or-never moment to improve global resilience in facing future pandemics,” he said.
In the wake of China being accused of a delayed and secretive response to the initial outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, Dr Frieden said it was key for each nation to be able to identify a "major health threat" within seven days and report it within one day. That would be followed with an effective response plan launched within seven days.
"These goals will help governments focus attention and resources," he said.
Another concern of Dr Frieden is the lack of pandemic preparation low-income countries have.
He says it is vital financially that countries are backed, and guidance and technical assistance is needed from the World Health Organisation and other nations with established disease control programs.
The importance of WHO in preventing pandemics
The World Health Organisation has come under scrutiny during the Covid pandemic, facing allegations of succumbing to China's pressure.
Dr Frieden warns it must be allowed to focus on "what they do best".
"The WHO needs real reforms to meet its mission. It must be much better insulated from political and geographic considerations in the hiring and promotion of staff, as well as in its assessments of countries and recommendations to them," he said.
"A stronger WHO could provide robust technical support to governments world-wide, especially through its proposed Global Strategic Preparedness Network."
He said it was vital nations worked together instead of against each other, in a manner seen with the US and China during Donald Trump's presidency.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” as the old saying goes. Today, failures of global cooperation worsen the spread of infectious diseases by leaving the world blind to emerging threats," he said.
"But by working together—by sharing data, knowledge and resources—we can increase our shared safety and security."
All his recommendations must be acted on now, Dr Frieden says.
"We can’t know the character or the timing of the threats ahead, but they are inevitable. There is no time to lose in making preparations."
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