Some nations weren’t prepared, others ignored best-laid plans. Why getting ready for next time has to start now
17 June 2020
IF YOU are looking for certainty in these uncertain times, here is something to chew on. “There will be another pandemic,” says Kathryn Jacobsen, a global health epidemiologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Of what, starting where and when, and how dangerous it will be, we don’t know. But we had better be ready, because it could happen at any time and could be worse than this one. “We can’t let our guard down,” she says.
Dealing with global outbreaks is theoretically quite straightforward, says Kenneth Timmis, a microbiologist at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. “Pandemics are always combated by the same basic strategy: surveillance, interruption of infection chains and the ramping up of prevention and treatment capacity.” That holds true even though the nature, evolution, timing and source of new pathogens is uncertain, he says. “You don’t know what you’re preparing for, so you have to be generic,” says Timmis. “There are certain things you have to do and these will be universal for every country and every pandemic. We therefore only need one pandemic preparedness.”
And the world has one, in the shape of a global agreement called (rather prosaically for something so dramatic) the International Health Regulations (IHR).
All 194 members of the World Health Organization (WHO) have signed up to them. They are a guide to both preparedness and emergency response, and, according to Jacobsen, are largely fit for purpose. “We need some sort of international agreement about how we’re going to work together to prevent the next pandemic, but we don’t need to start from the beginning, …