According to a legend, in the Fourth Century BC, Alexander the Great arrived in a city called Gordium. An ox-cart was tied to a post in the palace with very complicated knots that no one could untie. An oracle had said that anyone who could untie the knot would become the ruler of Asia. Alexander thought it would make no difference how the knot got loosened and so he simply cut it with his sword.
To me, the “Gordian Knot” is the perfect symbol for a problem that is difficult to solve, which is the nature of global biodefense and pandemics. As in the legend, pragmatic solutions are needed to make sure we are safe, but the challenges are very complex. There are three big reasons (and probably lots of small ones) why that is the case.
First, many agencies survey and plan for our security but the role of each agency is poorly defined and many times their roles overlap. Public health threats affect us all, wherever we live. Disease control and terror prevention are serious business. If we fail to get this right it will have huge consequences for large numbers of people all over the world. Everyone focuses on banking and the financial system. But as disastrous as mistakes can be in this area, they are incomparable to what can happen if there are policy failures involving pandemics or biodefense.
Second, getting the approach right requires the involvement of institutions in charge of public health policy, foreign affairs, homeland security, intelligence services, economics, science, defense, medical services, and development aid, to name just a few. There are not many other topics that force us to consider so many aspects at once. All of these institutions – government and non-government – compete for funding and influence and often they have slightly different goals.
Third, this area demands global and cross-border solutions to very local problems in the beginning. An outbreak in one country can impact the entire world. But announcing an outbreak to the world will likely mean that a country gets cut off from the international trade system, with negative consequences to its economy, travel and reputation. Controlling outbreaks can be expensive and demand resources that are difficult for many countries to come up with. Therefore, cooperation between nations is key for the prevention of any kind of disease outbreak, either natural, deliberate, or accidental.
I hope that this blog will draw attention to these knots and help untangle them by creating a space for discussion, information sharing and thoughts on the subject of biodefense and pandemics. This blog will contain interviews, articles, book reviews and other information for people interested in this space and in time, I hope it will also have input from readers.