How To Stop The Next Pandemic: WHO Director, Bloomberg Offer 7 Directions

Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) along with billionaire … [+]

Too soon?

The world is still caught deep in the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic with many countries, especially the U.S., not being able to adequately control the virus. For example, only last month, the U.S. had over 300,000 new reported Covid-19 cases on just a single day, January 8. Yet, now World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, and billionaire philanthropist Mike Bloomberg want to talk about preventing the next pandemic? That’s what they said in a recent Bloomberg Opinion piece entitled “Stopping the Next Pandemic Starts Now.” Is that like talking about getting on a dating app while you are still in marriage counseling with your current spouse: too soon?

Well, not really. Some have been referring to the current pandemic as a “once-in-a-century pandemic.” However, that’s probably not going to end up being an accurate statement. It’s hard to imagine our world going another 100 years without a similar or even worse pandemic threat. “Sooner or later, a new virus may emerge or re-emerge that could be more transmissible than the Covid-19 virus, more virulent or both,” wrote Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Bloomberg. “But efforts to identify dangerous new viruses remain limited.”

In fact, in the two decades before the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) pandemic, seemingly every few years a new major infectious disease threat emerged, such as the original SARS outbreak in 2002-2004, the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, and the Zika outbreak in 2015-2016. Viruses and other pathogens are like reality TV producers. They never stop coming up with new variations that may eventually spread. Therefore, there’s a high likelihood that a new pandemic threat may emerge in the next decade or so.

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The trouble is nowadays many people tend to have relatively short attention spans and memories. “This is a very important moment,” explained Kelly Henning, MD, who has led Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Health program since its inception in 2007. “It’s a moment when the public is paying attention to public health.” However, such attention like a SnapChat conversation or hair color on a boy band member can fade very quickly. When the pandemic eventually subsides, the public may revert back to focusing on other stuff, like what the Kardashians happen to be wearing.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is currently the WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable … [+]

That’s why the WHO Director-General and Bloomberg, who is also the WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Injuries, decided to pen the opinion piece. In the editorial, they urged that “the pandemic is at the forefront of everybody’s attention and it’s essential to harness that sense of trauma and urgency and start building the systems that will make us ready for when the next one arrives — because it is not a matter of if, but when.”

Henning said, “They wanted to utilize this moment and build on it. It’s very important to put this issue on the table now.”

As Henning described, “the Op-Ed tried to create areas or buckets of work that are important.” Thus, the editorial identified the following seven key directions:

Here Stephanie Ruhle interviews Bloomberg and Dr. Tedros on MSNBC Live about the Op-Ed:

The editorial also pointed out that “NCDs have been a major factor in Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths. If more nations had taken more aggressive steps to reduce NCDs, there could have been far fewer deaths during the pandemic.”

This is a reminder that global health issues don’t operate in clearly defined siloes that mirror academic disciplines or departments. A global health problem doesn’t say, “oh I am an epidemiology problem,” or “I am exclusively an infectious disease problem” or “only people of this specialty need to deal with me.” Even though the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has been ostensibly caused by a virus, many other factors have affected the virus’s spread and impact. “It’s a really important moment to shine a light on NCDs,” Henning urged. “They’ve worsened the outcomes of people with Covid-19. Covid-19 is on top of mind right now but there is a lot of work to be done in food policy, tobacco control, and other areas.”

So, no it’s not too soon to talk about the next pandemic. In fact, it’s already late. Had there been more talk about this current pandemic and the next pandemic during the last pandemic, this pandemic may not have been the same as it is now.

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I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order. Currently, I am

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