The next infectious disease outbreak could kill more than 300 million people worldwide
Ebola, smallpox, influenza, AIDS, are just some of the highly contagious epidemics that have engulfed communities and countries all across the world, wreaking true havoc on the global economy and leaving millions of lives destroyed.
Experts have long claimed that the next big infectious diseases outbreak is overdue. Moreover, increased globalisation, deforestation, climate change, and terrorism mean the impact of a new epidemic would be larger than ever before. Bill Gates announced at the beginning of this year “that an outbreak of a disease like the flu virus that swept the world in 1918 could today kill 33 million people within a six-month time span.”
However, according to Dr Jonathan Quick, massive global pandemics could be a thing of the past.
In his new book The End of Epidemics, the Harvard Medical School faculty member and chair of the Global Health Council presents a comprehensive seven-part plan, which, if followed, allows health experts, political leaders, and everyday citizens to detect and block the global spread of infectious diseases.
"We can end epidemics with a big call to action on seven sets of concrete actions,” Quick told Global Citizen. “These actions have been proven over a century of epidemic response.”
These seven actions include ensuring bold leadership at all levels, building resilient health systems, timely and accurate communication, investing in smart innovation, spending wisely to prevent diseases, mobilising citizen activism, and ensuring active prevention and constant readiness.
The premise of the book lies in the notion that humans already have the tools readily available to them to prevent diseases outbreaks. But, rather than dealing with the diseases directly, people often hide behind their own biases of fear, denial, complacency, and financial interest.
"The bugs are there. We are always going to have local disease outbreaks,” Quick stated. “The difference between a local disease outbreak that ends quickly and a major epidemic that goes pandemic is to a very large extent human actions that worsen the situation — or too often human inaction.”
Quick calls upon political and health leaders to put the public good above parochial interest by investing in resilient health systems that focus on research and immunisation, and establishing and maintaining trust via open communication at every level.
“You cannot wait until an epidemic occurs to take action,” Quick stated, before announcing that while voters generally don't reward leaders for prevention tactics, they readily slam leaders for preventable disasters. “I urge leaders to think about these outbreaks as preventable disasters in waiting.”
Political complacency when it comes to pandemic prevention is well documented. A report released by the World Bank in 2017 revealed most nations are ill prepared to treat a severe pandemic, as the majority "chronically under-invest" in emergency treatments, diseases surveillance, and public health systems.
Politicians and world leaders are also uniformed, Quick stated, about the true cost a global pandemic would have on the global economy. He claims a severe global pandemic would cost the global economy $3.5 trillion dollars, with two-thirds of the economic impact in losses to supply, demand, productivity, and jobs.
"It really doesn't cost that much to make the world safer,” he stated. “It would only cost $1 per person per year to achieve these high priority actions that are currently being dismissed.”
In the last chapter of the book, Quick relays the important role citizen activists play in rousing leaders to take action. "We know how to make the world safer," he added. "It is up to us to push our leaders in every field to do what we know is needed to make us all safer from pandemic threats."