By Judith Schumacher-Jennings
Senator Richard Burr, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been accused of insider trading because he sold the bulk of his investments shortly before the COVID-19 market crash. However Senator Burr has been thinking about pandemics for a long time. In 2006 he coauthored the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA). Did he have inside information or do we have eyes wide shut?
Democrats are blaming Republicans for the nation’s COVID-19 response. Republicans are blaming China. Perhaps both views are simplistic and the Covid-19 blame is more widespread.
Global Preparedness Monitoring Board
The United Nations Secretary-General created the Global Health Crises Task Force and Panel in the wake of the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic. The Task Force established the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB). GPMB urges political action to prepare for and mitigate the effects of global health emergencies.
The Board consists of 15 distinguished experts from around the world. It includes the former Director-General of the World Health Organization, the Secretary General of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, the Director-General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and our own Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.
GPMP published its first annual report in September of 2019 (two months ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak in China). The title is A World at Risk.
The report outlined a grim situation.
A World at Risk
The world is at acute risk for devastating regional or global disease epidemics or pandemics. Both will cause loss of life, upend economies and create social chaos.
Population growth, increased urbanization, a globally integrated economy, widespread and faster travel, conflict, migration and climate change heighten vulnerability.
The world is confronted by increasing infectious disease outbreaks. For instance, between 2011 and 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) tracked 1483 epidemic events in 172 countries. Epidemic prone diseases, e.g. influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Ebola, Zika, plague, Yellow Fever and others, are harbingers of a new era of high-impact, potentially fast-spreading outbreaks, They are emerging more frequently and increasingly difficult to manage.
The Covid-19 blame is widespread. The world is not ready for a fast-moving, virulent respiratory pathogen pandemic. The 1918 global influenza pandemic sickened one third of the world population and killed as many as 50 million people, 2.8% of the total population. If a similar contagion occurred today with a population four times larger and travel times anywhere in the world less than 36 hours, 50 – 80 million people could perish. In addition to tragic levels of mortality, such a pandemic could cause panic, destabilize national security and seriously impact the global economy and trade.
Public Trust and Political Will
Trust in institutions is eroding. As a result, governments, scientists, the media, public health, health systems and health workers face a breakdown in public trust. This is happening in many countries. It is threatening their ability to function effectively. Misinformation, communicated quickly and widely via social media, exacerbates the problem and hinders disease control.
Covid-19 blame is widespread. The lack of consistent political will at all levels hampers preparedness. National leaders only respond to health crises when fear and panic grow strong enough. Most countries do not devote the consistent energy and resources needed to keep outbreaks from escalating into disasters.
Preparedness and response systems and capabilities for disease outbreaks are not sufficient to deal with the enormous impact, rapid spread and shock to health, social and economic systems of a highly lethal pandemic. In other words, epidemic control costs would completely overwhelm the current financing arrangements for emergency response.
Laurie Garrett authored The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, published in 1994. Last year she wrote an article entitled, “The World Knows an Apocalyptic Pandemic Is Coming, But Nobody is Interested in Doing Anything About It,” for the September 20, 2019 edition of Foreign Policy.
A Changing Climate Plays a Role
According to Garrett, climate change favors outbreaks. For instance,rising heat and humidity spawn surges in populations of disease-carrying mosquitoes. In addition, warming temperatures allow water surfaces to suffocate under toxic algae, fill hospitals and agricultural fields with deadly fungi. Bird and animal migratory patterns are changing, and they, in turn, carry their microbial hitchhikers to new geographies.
The report contended political will, financial investment and health system improvements lead to results. For example, the Republic of Korea successfully contained a second potential MERS outbreak in 2018. Nigeria also implemented an epidemic preparedness infrastructure. It rapidly controlled Ebola cases during the 2014-2016 outbreak which devastated west Africa. Additionally, recent improvements in India’s health system helped it identify and contain the deadly Nipah virus in May 2018.
In summary, Garrett wrote it’s hard to know what, shy of a genuinely devastating pandemic of killer influenza or some currently unknown microbe, will motivate global leaders to take microscopic threats seriously.
Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, April 1, 2020. Email Judith Schumacher-Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org