Preparing for the next pandemic

Preparing for the next pandemic

Over three years and more than 6.5 million dead later, the Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet. As people around the world work to end the current pandemic, we must also ask ourselves: How do we prepare for the next one?

Reframe the conversation about Covid

Despite the fact that many of us have returned to a version of our normal lives, the Covid pandemic is not over. But rather than wondering when it will end, it might be helpful to rephrase the question, he said Joanne Liu, MDCM, FRCPCemergency room physician, professor in McGill University’s School of Population and Global Health, and director of the Pandemics and Health Emergencies Readiness Lab (PERL).

Former international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, Liu is a member of the Inter-agency humanitarian assessment of the humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Independent Pandemic Preparedness and Response Group, so he knows a thing or two about pandemics. And he thinks we need to take a different approach to the conversation about when Covid is going to go away, because he won’t, at least not quite.

“I don’t think there will be an end per se,” Liu said. Instead, he explained, we will move from the pandemic phase to the endemic phase of Covid. “Basically, this means that we have a predictable pattern of the number of infections and that it’s not disrupting or disrupting the entire healthcare system,” Liu said.

Epidemic: An unexpected increase in the number of cases of illness or certain health-related behaviors in a specific geographical area.
Pandemic: When the growth of a disease increases every day and covers a large area, affecting different countries and populations.
*The difference between an epidemic and a pandemic is the degree to which it has spread. An epidemic is large but usually contained, while a pandemic is international and out of control.
Endemic: A disease that is consistently present in a given community or region, making the rate of spread predictable.

While she hasn’t ventured to guess when we will reach the endemic stage of Covid-19, some scientists believe we are approaching. That doesn’t mean we won’t have to worry about Covid anymore. It just means it will be more manageable, like the flu.

When having a plan isn’t enough

Even as the Covid pandemic drags on, preparations are underway for the next one. When it comes to governments and health systems planning for future pandemics, Liu believes we need to do more than just be prepared: We need to be ready. This means not just having a plan in place, but executing it so many times that you can react immediately when disaster strikes.

“I liken it to a fire station, where there are always firefighters sitting and waiting,” Liu said. “When the fire alarm goes off, they jump in the truck and drive away. They don’t fix the truck, they take their time setting up their equipment and maybe the next day they’re ready to go.”

The idea is to always be practiced and ready so that when the worst happens, we don’t have to talk about what to do, we just do it. “There’s preparation, and then there’s readiness to be operational when something happens,” Liu said.

Strengthen the supply chain, improve access for all

Liu says making sure everyone has what they need during future pandemics, including vaccines, treatments and protective gear like masks, will fundamentally change how those things are shared around the world.

“I think people in high-income countries are completely unaware and unaware of how angry low- and middle-income countries are that they have failed to get quick and affordable countermeasures (during the Covid pandemic),” Liu said.

Liu believes we need to rethink how we share tools to fight pandemics. This sharing should include the development of vaccines and other treatments, not just distribution. “We should be thinking about equity at the discovery level, which means people will have access to the recipe,” he said.

Liu adds that countries must work together for the common good to ensure everyone has equal access to vaccines and other protections during future pandemics, and they must do so now. “Between epidemics is when we should have these difficult conversations,” Liu said. “It’s a lot harder to have them when you’re having that fight.”

Foil other threats

Investments in developing new treatments should also be part of a long-term strategy to combat other health threats, including one already affecting countries around the world: antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites (microbes) change over time so that drugs don’t work as well against them. It can lead to the creation of “superbugs” that cannot be treated with antimicrobials or other currently available drugs.

“AMR is an ‘invisible pandemic’ that will be a huge problem,” Liu said. “And we’re very ill-prepared for that.” He added that along with the development of new antibiotics and other treatments to fight antimicrobial resistance, governments and public health officials should raise awareness about it.

“We need to talk about it and we need to raise awareness,” Liu said. The campaign should include education about when to use antibiotics and when not to.

“We have to educate people not to use antibiotics for viral diseases,” he said. This type of medicine does not work against colds, flu and other types of illnesses caused by a virus, and the overuse of antibiotics for this type of disease it is part of what causes AMR.

Acting locally to fight a global crisis

At the local level, Liu believes that harnessing the power of communities can help us protect each other in the event of future pandemics. If governments turn again to strategies like lockdowns to protect healthy people from getting sick, he says, we’ll need to make sure the most vulnerable among us are cared for during these times of isolation.

“What is clear is that the lockdown comes with responsibilities, especially for vulnerable groups,” Liu said. For us as individuals, that means having a plan in place to police our neighbors and generally going the extra mile to make sure everyone has what they need to get by.

Liu points to homemade masks as an example of people taking care of each other during the Covid pandemic. Where does he live in Montreal, hundreds of seamstresses they came together in 2020 to sew masks for people who might not otherwise have access to them. “They have made more than 50,000 masks for their communities,” Liu said.

In the US, volunteers from across the country also joined in the early days of Covid, sewing masks for healthcare workers and others in need of protection.

If we are all committed to caring for one another during a crisis, these small-scale acts of assistance can have a big impact.

As told by Christine Cox, a volunteer mask sewer based in Atlanta Cnn“We are the ones you want around the apocalypse.”

This resource was created with support from PhRMA.

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