Prepare to fail, if we fail to prepare for other pandemics


Prepare to fail, if we fail to prepare for other pandemics

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

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No one should be alarmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) warning on Monday that worse pandemics could lie ahead.

After all, that possibility was highlighted as far back as 2014 by then American President Barack Obama as he pleaded with the US Congress to put in place infrastructure, not only in that country, but worldwide, that would allow for quick response to any new virus or disease that could hit the planet.

President Obama had made the appeal while seeking US$6.18 billion in emergency funds to enhance America's ability to respond to the Ebola outbreak.

“I cannot think of a better example of an area where we should all agree than passing this emergency funding to fight Ebola, and to set up some of the public health infrastructure that we need to deal with potential outbreaks in the future,” he said at the time.

However, the partisan nature of politics, coupled with the fact that Ebola affected only about 12 people in the US — the vast majority of whom recovered — resulted in Mr Obama's effort being blocked.

As we have argued in this space before, the jury is still out on how the world would have been able to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic had President Obama's suggestion been approved and implemented.

We are, though, impressed by the speed with which vaccines have been developed to combat COVID-19, and we hope that the mass immunisation programmes being implemented in many countries will prove successful. For, as WHO emergencies chief, Mr Michael Ryan, acknowledged on Monday, the novel coronavirus pandemic has been very severe.

“It has spread around the world extremely quickly, and it has affected every corner of this planet, but this is not necessarily the big one,” Mr Ryan is reported as saying at a news briefing marking a year since the United Nations agency first learned of the new virus spreading in China.

“We need to get ready for something that may even be more severe in the future,” Mr Ryan added.

He is, of course, correct.

While we reiterate that achieving a state of readiness is not inexpensive, and will be made even more difficult by the demands of myriad health crises facing the world, countries with the resources should not vacillate about allocating more to scientific research and development.

That necessity is made even more clear by the fact that the world, as articulated by WHO senior advisor, Mr Bruce Aylward on Monday, is still not prepared to deal with and manage the second and third waves of the coronavirus, despite the progress already made.

Here in Jamaica, while we may not be in a position financially to engage in the kind of research required to develop vaccines, we certainly should use this crisis to improve infrastructure and service in the public health system. That must include the welfare of health care professionals.

We reiterate, too, that the skills exhibited locally to manufacture medical and other equipment should be nurtured, as that would contribute to a significant reduction of our import bill.

As Mr Benjamin Franklin, the famous British American polymath, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, and one of the founding fathers of the US quite correctly stated many years ago: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

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