The next pandemic is not a matter of if but instead a matter of when. The current COVID-19 pandemic has been described by most as a “once-in-a-lifetime” or a “once-in-a-century” event. However, a recent August 2021 study shows that that may not be the case. COVID-19 is not the only epidemiological event we’ve seen in the last decade or so; the 2003 SARS outbreak in Mainland China, the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, and the swine flu pandemic in 2009 all show that these events are really not that uncommon. And the frequency of these epidemiological events may even be increasing. A model in the August 2021 study shows the frequency and severity of infectious disease spillovers are increasing steadily. The majority of these spillovers tend to happen in more vulnerable and low-income countries of the world.
So what do we need to do? We need to implement the infrastructure for a good surveillance
system in those low-income countries that could quickly detect new spillovers, which would allow us to implement public health measures to try to limit the disease’s impact. We should also try to prevent as much human-to-animal interaction as we can; not domesticated animals but more wild animals like bats, monkeys, snakes, etc. We can do this by educating people in lower-income countries about the dangers of a new disease spillover. I don’t think it would be that hard to convince people to change their behavior because of what we just went through and what we still are going through. This link highlights the geographical areas that are most affected and most vulnerable to disease spillover events and where specifically the infrastructure needs to be built. The last thing we could do is to invest in public health and the strength of our hospitals to cope with a surge of infected patients that require care. There are several groups and organizations that are working to shape the political incentives to get these recognized and acted upon.
Before this pandemic, pandemic preparedness was greatly under-appreciated and there was so little preparedness. The U.S. bombed its pandemic performance in front of the world despite being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, and still today we are not making good strides against the new variants. We have the resources and we have the capability to do these things. Who knows? Maybe the next pandemic will be so devastatingly apocalyptic that half of humanity could be wiped out and that’s definitely a future we want to avoid.