This Wall Street Journal article was written by Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2009 to 2017. While COVID-19 preoccupies us at the moment, it is crucial to begin thinking about the next inevitable pandemics. Dr. Frieden explains that in the years after COVID-19, it is likely that another infectious disease, possibly a similar pneumonia-like illness, suddenly emerges. Will we be ready?
To prepare for this scenario, Frieden lists six all-important steps the world must take. We must take the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and be able to apply them to the future pandemics, as “we will fail if we learn nothing more than how to fight the last war better”. Firstly, Frieden encourages us to embrace the “7-1-7” goal, meaning that every country should have the capacity to “identify any new suspected outbreak within seven days of emergence, start to investigate the event within one day and report it then, and mount an effective response—defined by clear, specific benchmarks for different pathogens—within seven days”. While this won’t be easy, this goal will help governments globally consolidate resources and center their attention in a timely manner.
Secondly, we need to strengthen the everyday emergency response systems so that we will be able to scale them up in case of an emergency. To do so would require increased attention and considerable resources. However, this would certainly be worth while as currently, less than 1% of the 2019 annual funding for global health was for pandemic preparedness.
Thirdly, Frieden argues that international organizations such as the WHO and UN need real reforms to work to the best of their ability. Currently, their international public health structures are based largely “largely from post-World War II agreements, with newer entities often grafted awkwardly onto them”. To improve the WHO, it must “be much better insulated from political and geographic considerations in the hiring and promotion of staff”. The UN must be better funded, given more power on the international stage, and be allowed to criticize underperforming governments. While non-profit organizations have picked up a lot of the resources, energy, and accountability that the UN and WHO lack, they do not have the necessary ability to monitor diseases, laboratories, and individual governments.
Fourthly, in order to manage funds effectively, the world needs to ensure accountability and improve confidence for various government investments (Frieden).
Fifthly, as we have learned from COVID-19, the inability to cooperate globally leads to the worsening of the spread of infectious disease. We need to now, more than ever before, work together and share information and resources to achieve security and foster an environment that will help us to promote innovations in science.
Finally, Frieden explains that we must act now because while “we can’t know the character or the timing of the threats ahead …. they are inevitable”. If you’d like to read this article in more detail, here is the link: