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Scientists working together can prevent future pandemics
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Scientists working together can prevent future pandemics

Grace Wangge, Monash University Indonesia Jakarta (360info), Mar 24, 2004. An interdisciplinary One Health approach as well as strong decision-making are the best defense against the next outbreak of zoonotic diseases.

COVID-19 was spread by costly delays in reporting and responding. However, the pandemic-like effects that COVID-19 caused were not due to its failures.

Scientists have been busy writing scientific papers that offer guidance on how to improve the next response. These papers follow the recommendations and findings of an independent panel created by the World Health Organization (WHO).

It found delays at every stage, from notifying WHO about potential outbreaks to confirming human transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to declaring a public emergency.

The International Health Regulations, which are legally binding in 196 nations, did not promote rapid response to the pandemic. Although the regulations required countries to report suspected outbreaks, they did not provide a time frame. China was the first country to report a possible outbreak of a disease to the WHO system. There has been a delay of 2-3 days. One of these days occurred during a holiday period.

It is not clear whether faster information sharing will improve decision-making. Even after more information about COVID-19 was available, the WHO and its member countries remained hesitant to make decisions on pandemic control measures. Even though COVID-19 contained high-impact respiratory pathogens, global health consequences were not taken into account when deciding policy.

Many policies on pandemic response (including the International Health Regulations) focus on protecting human and animal health. A more holistic approach is possible, however: One Health and Planetary Health take into account interactions between animal, human, and environmental health.

One Health has been around since 1939. Robert Virchow (German pathologist) discovered how roundworm could be transmitted to humans from pigs. He also coined the term zoonosis to denote an infectious disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Calvin Schwabe, an American veterinarian, introduced One Medicine to a veterinary textbook in 1966. Schwabe highlighted the similarities between human and veterinary medicine and stressed the importance of collaboration between doctors and veterinarians in solving global health problems. This idea was further developed in the 2004 Manhattan Principles, 12 principles that describe the relationship between humans and animals. These principles are the foundation of Planetary Health. The Rockefeller Foundation, the Lancet and the Lancet made the latter more prominent in 2015 with the Rockefeller FoundationLancet Commission on Planetary Health. One Health and Planetary Health both emphasize the need to be environmentally involved and multidisciplinary in managing illnesses that affect animals and humans.

Fragmented governance among human, animal, and environmental health may have contributed to delays in detection of COVID-19. Because COVID-19 is not a first zoonotic pandemic, it should have been possible to transmit an illness from animals into humans. Disease transmission from animals to people was also involved in the 2009 Influenza A pandemic (MERS-CoV), and the 2012 Middle Eastern respiratory Syndrome coronavirus outbreak (MERSCoV).

There are many ways to integrate One Health and Planetary Health into policy-making. Collaboration among practitioners of human and animal health can be supported by the international community. Public health professionals can promote One Health and Planetary Health to a greater audience, and the concepts can be introduced earlier to medical students, veterinary students and environmental-engineering students. Collaboration between these fields can be fostered through research and community-development programs that focus on public health issues.

A pandemic response is only possible if there is leadership and quick, evidence-based decision making. The panel analysis revealed that countries that had experienced similar outbreaks were more able to respond quickly than the WHO. These countries prioritised good governance above advanced technologies.

The WHO has an opportunity to improve its position as the world’s leading health organisation and to build an operational capacity for emergency situations that can be used to support leadership and quick decision-making.

The panel’s assessment of pandemic preparedness showed that human factors play a significant role. To manage an outbreak, it is necessary to make solid decisions. While advanced technology can help with the dissemination of information and decision-making, it is not able to replace human thinking and ability. To prevent another devastating pandemic, policy-makers need to encourage collaboration between disciplines and evidence-based decisions-making. ( AMS AMS

(This story is not edited by Devdiscourse staff.

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