Infectious diseases are likely to become more frequent in the coming
decades. A team of international experts has warned that the world remains "grossly underprepared" for outbreaks of infectious
disease. The findings are published in The BMJ.
They reviewed reports on the recent Ebola virus outbreak in West
Africa and say better preparedness and a faster, more coordinated
response could have prevented most of the 11,000 deaths directly
attributed to Ebola and also the broader economic, social, and health
crises that ensued.
‘Ebola, and more recently Zika and yellow fever, have demonstrated that we do not yet have a reliable or robust global system for preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease outbreaks.’
In August 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the
Ebola outbreak in West Africa a Public Health Emergency of International
Concern (PHEIC), and the world scrambled to respond.
In the aftermath, a number of reports were published reviewing what
went wrong and how we should better manage infectious disease outbreaks.
However, the main priorities emerging from these reports and the extent
to which action has been taken on the proposed reforms is unclear.
So a research team, led by Suerie Moon at the Graduate Institute of
International and Development Studies in Geneva, synthesized seven major
post-Ebola reports and laid out the key problems and recommendations
They also assessed progress to date and identified the biggest gaps between recommendations and action in each area of reform.
They found that, while the reports differed in scope and emphasis,
their diagnosis of the key problems and recommendations for action
converged in three critical areas: strengthening compliance with the
International Health Regulations (IHR); improving outbreak-related
research and knowledge sharing; and reforming the World Health
Organization (WHO) and broader humanitarian response system.
They found significant efforts beginning to address these issues,
but that progress has been mixed with many critical issues largely
For example, they point out that investments in country capacity
building have been inadequate and difficult to track, arrangements for
fair and timely sharing of patient samples remain weak, and reform
efforts at WHO have focused on operational issues but have neglected to
address deeper institutional shortcomings.
As the WHO Executive Board gathers this week to shortlist candidates
in the running for the 2017 WHO Director-General election, the authors
point out that "spearheading institutional reforms is likely to fall to
the next director general."
"We found remarkable consensus on what went wrong with the Ebola
response and what we need to do to address the deficiencies. Yet not
nearly enough has been done," write the authors.
"Ebola, and more recently Zika and yellow fever, have demonstrated
that we do not yet have a reliable or robust global system for
preventing, detecting, and responding to disease outbreaks," they add.
And they urge the global community "to mobilize greater resources
and put in place monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure we
are better prepared for the next pandemic."
"We will not be ready for the next outbreak without deeper and more comprehensive change," they conclude.