Is The Next Pandemic Already Here?

by Aakash Sharma

Is The Next Pandemic Already Here?

January 12, 2021

COVID-19 will not be the ultimate pandemic that humanity witnesses.

Many of us may yet live to see the subsequent one. But we are unpropitious to be any more combat-ready for it than we were for this one. That is the cold yet realistic estimation of experts and epidemiologists like Dr. Kenneth Iserson, professor emeritus of crisis medication at the University of Arizona. He specializes in global and disaster medicine.

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Dr. Iserson on ABC’s show, 20/20, an hour long, multi-part special on the show, The Good Doctor. All discussion were taken from his book: Improvised Medicine: Providing Care in Extreme Environments, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York, NY. 2016.

A Next Pandemic- Disease X

The world is now witnessing numerous new diseases that could expand into Disease X. Dr. Iserson told The Straits Times, indicating a placeholder name that recognizes the likelihood of a severe the contagious disease still foreign to people.

There are probably other unrecognized transmissible diseases already in circulation that can have devastating implications. But the dissimilar, politically motivated, and uncoordinated response to COVID-19 implies that we have not uncovered much that will serve us for impending pandemics.

- Dr. Kenneth Iserson, University of Arizona

Disease X is one of a dozen lethal pathogens, consisting of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Ebola. The World Health Organisation considers these as top examination priorities, given their potential to provoke a pandemic.

COVID-19 is the Disease X that rushed the world into disaster in 2020. But as countries roll out vaccines produced in record course in 2021, the next undiscovered, unnamed substance may already be prowling.

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An artist's interpretation of an unknown, dangerous disease, or Disease X.

Block, Not Just Respond- Vaccines Are Not the Holy grail

Vaccines alone cannot be relied on for ending a pandemic. The best precautionary action against the next pandemic is intense global monitoring, principally in hot spots for novel viruses, such as China, the Amazon basin, and central Africa. That takes sufficient funding, coordination, and political compliance to promulgate and act when new contagious agents are recognized quickly.

Vaccines and procedures of the same nature are reactive rather than preventive. They are not a guaranteed form of long-term shielding. Microbes, too, learn to develop and mutate. More significantly, new pandemics can start and wreak havoc before we can develop vaccines or test drugs against them.

- K. Srinath Reddy, President, India Public Health Foundation

Notwithstanding humanity’s best aims, the reminiscences of angst and societal disorder during COVID-19 will decrease. Our defenses against pandemic diseases will continue to be underfunded and inadequate to the task between politicking and red tape, argued Dr. Iserson in a commentary in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine.

While pessimistic, Dr. Iserson’s views are based on the history of the response to repeated pandemics over the millennia. Moreover, the global center on the prevailing pandemic may have unconsciously shifted support away from some investigation areas into limiting the next one, even as it comes rushing towards us, invisible.

Planning Foremost

Although much of the world has so far given scarce heed to the value of preventing Disease X, with its focus strongly on carrying COVID-19 to heel, some states are already weighing several steps ahead, setting new plans – and more repositories – into place.

For one, the US has invested $82 million over five years to set up and bolster the Centres for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases- Creid, an international inspection chain tasked with identifying the ensuing pandemic pathogen before it jumps from wildlife into humans.

In introducing Creid’s in August, the US’s head infectious diseases specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made it plain that the coronavirus crisis was a fundamental driving factor.

The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic toils as a potent warning of the destruction that can be wrought while a new virus contaminates humans for the first time. The Creid system will enable fresh warnings of developing diseases wherever they occur, which will be important to speedy rejoinders. The knowledge earned by this analysis will improve our readiness for future eruptions.

- Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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Years- Gap between the latest pandemics in modern history.

India, another critical global power, has boosted funding for multidisciplinary disease surveillance systems and expanded the laboratory range for such research work over the country, as part of a Rs. 150 billion (S$2.7 billion) aggregate for COVID-19-related proposals.

In Singapore, the administration has commissioned a massive S$25 billion – 5 per cent of its 2019 GDP- to a range of plans planning the country’s research panorama over the next five years, a research agenda for epidemic preparedness and response.

This will explain how epidemics can be restrained and warrant diagnostics, medicines, and vaccines to be immediately prepared when the next crisis strikes.

  • Deaths Due To Bubonic Plague of 134625 Million
  • Deaths Due To Spanish Flu of 191850 Million
  • Deaths Due To Covid-191.87 Million

International Alliance and The Road Ahead

Other international channels are extending their efforts and pooling means with ever more comprehensive urgency in the hope that humankind can learn everything there is to know about the next Disease X before it transpires. Global Virome Project attempts to detect the bulk of the world’s anonymous viral threats to human health.

However, far more waits to be done with too little attention currently paid to some areas most vital in work to counter another pandemic. On top of increasing eco-surveillance, we also need to stop deforestation.

We must support plant-based foods in preference to unnecessary animal consumption, particularly exotic animal origin and factory-farmed livestock and poultry. If we preserve ecological balance and proceed with sustainable advancement, we will change our connection with other life forms from harm to balance.

Periods of panic and neglect in which the system rushes to mainline funding in the vigil of major outbreaks like Sars and Ebola but halt their support once they are contained.

- Peter Sands, executive director, Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria
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At a lab in Mbandaka, ecologists prepare to take a blood sample from a bat captured in the forest. (Alex Platt/CNN)

Expertise Can Benefit

Conceivably a silver lining in the dark cloud of the dangling threat of a different pandemic is that even if politics and government ultimately get in the way of the best intentions to prevent it, the world’s yielded knowledge with COVID-19 may still go some way in implementing it for the subsequent global health emergency.

A year ago, it would have been too long of a shot to consider that a vaccine could be produced from scratch, allowed by regulators, made in the millions, and rolled out in mass immunization operations around the world in a matter of months.

Many scientists, legislators, pharmaceutical and drug companies worldwide have succeeded in bypassing the red tape, divisive politicking, and funding problems that typically torment the vaccine-making method to pull that off in less than a year. These are evidence of what global cooperation can achieve when there is a single-minded center.

We have to understand why (COVID-19) was restricted in the contaminated zone of Wuhan initially. It was because there was an experience in (China) from Sars and avian influenza, there were apparatus in place to detect strange pneumonia coming up.

- Dr. Josie Golding, Epidemics Lead & Global Health Research Funder, Wellcome

The countries which handled COVID-19 better and faster at the start were the ones who had that historical experience. That is going to make a significant distinction when it comes to the ensuing Disease X.

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