How can the World Prepare Against the Threat of Future Pandemics?
The Likelihood of Future Pandemic
According to Metabiota, a biotech company specialising in monitoring epidemics, there is a 47% to 57% likelihood that the world will experience another pandemic within the next 25 years (Metabiota, 2021). Many factors contribute to this statistic ranging from the increasingly interconnected nature of the world, human impact on wildlife as well as higher populations densities in urban areas.
There has been an increased emphasis on methods to prevent and mitigate against the likely re-occurrence of a global pandemic across health, science, and political sectors. For example, Virologists have strongly recommended policy actions such as banning wild-animal trade and policies enabling the immediate release of global funds in the early stages of an outbreak.
Surveillance Underpins Global Pandemic Preparedness
Yet everything must start with becoming aware of threats promptly; ‘If you don’t look, you don’t see, you will always respond too late’ states Jeremy Farrar, director of UK biomedical funder Wellcome. The late detection of virus threats is a big concern as outbreaks can quickly become harder to contain and therefore out of human control.
It’s been suggested that avoiding or mitigate the likelihood of another pandemic necessitates a global surveillance system that can track the emergence of outbreaks. This includes tracing potential virus threats more expansively than what has been possible previously. Currently, only 0.1% of all viruses’ with the potential capacity to infect humans, are documented (Devex, 2021).
Such a global surveillance system would require active surveillance rather than passive surveillance. Active surveillance would entail a system of employing staff to seek out the required information. Passive surveillance relies on reports being submitted by health institutions which is cheaper but often slow and unreliable. To mitigate a pandemic in the reality of an interconnected world where pre-pandemic saw 1.4 billion international arrivals globally per year (UNWTO, 2021) would therefore require a quick response and therefore an active surveillance system.
Building a Global Surveillance System
The task of implementing global surveillance is a large undertaking, however, the idea of a global response to pandemics in the form of prevention, treatment, and delivery of vaccines is already fairly established and actively implemented. Examples are The Global Fund to Fight AIDS and the current distribution of vaccines global via initiatives such as GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.
Additionally, a global surveillance system would not need to be built from scratch. Many national-level surveillance structures already exist in countries such as Guinea, Vietnam, Japan, and South Korea, so it could be a case of connecting such structures. Encompassing data into a structured system with standardised protocols and commitments to share data from governments would be necessary to stitch current surveillance systems together. More fundamentally, the sustainable and consistent investment would be needed estimated to potentially cost $1.2 billion over 10 years (Devex, 2021).
Community-based Surveillance in Vietnam
Vietnam has a history of quickly mitigating against potential pandemics having successfully acted against SARS in 2003. After the SARS epidemic, Vietnam increased investment into the public health infrastructure.
Since then Vietnam has maintained a strong system of collecting public data, shifting to a real-time web-based system in 2009. Additionally, Vietnam has implemented a more active approach to surveillance whereby members of the public are empowered to report public health events, termed “community-based surveillance”. The effectiveness of Vietnams surveillance system can be demonstrated in how Vietnam was able to mitigate against the initial Covid-19 outbreak. The first reported case of Covid-19 was reported on 23rd January 2020, within a week the Vietnamese government had formed a national steering committee, centralising government action. Due to the strength of the Vietnamese surveillance system, Vietnam was able to implement containment strategies which kept outbreaks under control with 2,900 cases until 1st May 2021.
Surveillance has also enabled Vietnam to respond quickly and decisively against the current outbreak of the Delta variant. Subsequently Vietnam has been able to implement lockdowns in precise locations due to information being sourced from its community-based surveillance. Additionally, Vietnam has been able to tackle the virus despite limited resources which has inhibited its ability to secure vaccines. Vietnam’s surveillance system has therefore enabled it to respond commendably against the challenge of new contagious variants and limited access to vaccines.
Wolfe, N,. (15th April 2021) COVID-19 Won’t Be the Last Pandemic. Here’s What We Can Do to Protect Ourselves https://time.com/5820607/nathan-wolfe-coronavirus-future-pandemic/
Carroll, D, (17th May 2021) Opinion: We need a new global surveillance system to detect and prevent the next pandemic https://www.devex.com/news/opinion-we-need-a-new-global-surveillance-system-to-detect-and-prevent-the-next-pandemic-99900
Checney,C,. (31st July 2021) How might probability inform policy on pandemics? Metabiota has ideas https://www.devex.com/news/how-might-probability-inform-policy-on-pandemics-metabiota-has-ideas-100427
Metabiota,. (2021) https://metabiota.com/
UNWTO,. (2021) https://www.unwto.org
Our World in Data, (5th March 2021) Vietnam’s commitment to containment https://ourworldindata.org/covid-exemplar-vietnam
Reuters,. (20th August, 2021) Vietnam to deploy troops, issues stay-home order https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/vietnams-biggest-city-issues-stay-home-order-covid-19-deaths-soar-2021-08-20/