The Next Pandemic: The World Stage (Part 3 of 3)
THE WORLD is the stage for the next pandemic. In our first discussion, we began to unravel the web of disease outbreak and saw how any combination of individual pathogens, vectors, and humans can interact to produce an epidemic (a regional outbreak) or even a pandemic (a global outbreak). The odds seemed to be stacked against us until we delved into the role of nations, who experience outbreaks often but can prevent their spread through effective infrastructure, adequate public health funding, and rapid response. However, a nation can only help itself and doesn’t have much control if the disease spreads to other countries. This is where global organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) step in to take care of the pathogen, vector, humans, and national governments. These organizations take on similar responsibilities as nations with regards to infrastructure, public health, and response, but their main role is to fund scientific research.
Research is important for discovery. Scientists are always looking for new ways of treating cancer or methods to slow global warming. In the case of the next pandemic, scientists have a long to-do list. They want to analyze current diseases to assess their outbreak potential and create a vaccine against them. They also want to actively seek out new diseases in “hot spot” areas, such as the rainforest, to prevent them from catching us unaware. Additionally, scientists are researching methods to stop vectors from even transmitting the diseases in the first place. In other words, scientists are now pursuing a proactive rather than reactive approach to disease response, hoping to save valuable time and lives through prevention and anticipation.
The World Health Organization facilitates these efforts by shaping the research agenda and the sharing of knowledge while providing supplies and financial resources. Prevention research, however, isn’t cheap. Funding can be difficult to obtain, as Dr. Claude Nagamine, a professor using mouse models to study infectious diseases at Stanford University, explains. “Funding is a big issue, but in research, you always have to have it. So, you pick a problem that’s going to be beneficial for society [to solve] and then get solid data and … publish it, so you can get more funds.”
It seems like a no-brainer that creating vaccines, finding new diseases, and preventing the spread of disease are beneficial problems for society to solve–and fund. Yet global organizations tend to focus on the immediate problems of treating the diseases people currently have instead of taking large-scale action to anticipate future outbreaks.
A prevention strategy is one large-scale action that would be beneficial to fund because it interrupts the disease transmission cycle and leads to the creation of vaccines and treatments. The prevention strategy can focus on areas such as studying disease ecology (the interactions between pathogens, hosts, and environments that lead to disease), looking for new diseases, and facilitating cooperation of nations to respond quickly. Erin Mordecai, a professor of biology at Stanford University, believes that “having a better understanding of the ecology of disease transmission” would allow us to be “better able to predict when conditions are going to be suitable for outbreaks.” One organization leading the way is the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), established in 2014. The GHSA has created an interconnected global network that responds effectively to prevent infectious disease outbreaks in humans and animals, mitigates human suffering and the loss of human life, and reduces economic impact. By encouraging the creation of more organizations like the GHSA, we can prevent the onset of the next pandemic.
Our world is a web of individuals, nations, and global organizations that may seem independent of each other, but are in fact intricately intertwined. Just as it will take more than one individual to spread disease, it will take more than one individual, nation, or global organization to prevent a disease outbreak from becoming the next pandemic. Individual attention, national infrastructure, and global research efforts are all necessary strands of the web that will help prepare for and catch the next deadly pathogen–before it catches us.
- Nagamine, Claude. Professor of Comparative Medicine. (2 November 2017). [Personal Interview].
- Mordecai, Erin. Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology (3 November 2017). [Personal Interview].
- Commission, GHRF. “The Neglected Dimension of Global Security: A Framework to Counter Infectious Disease Crises.” 2016. https://nam.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Neglected-Dimension-of-Global-Security.pdf.
- Global Health Security Agenda. (2018). About GHSA. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from https://www.ghsagenda.org/about
- World Health Organization. (2018). About WHO. Retrieved April 24, 2018, from www.who.int/about/what-we-do/en/
Image courtesy of Jeramiah Winston.