A study recently published in The BMJ shows that the world is “grossly underprepared” for major outbreaks of infectious diseases despite recent efforts to combat the Ebola and Zika viruses.
Predicting more frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases worldwide, a team of international experts dissected seven major reports, convened by WHO, the United Nations secretary general and others. These were published shortly after the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that claimed 11,000 lives.
Led by Suerie Moon at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, the team reviewed the findings and recommendations of each report as well as progress made and areas that still need to be addressed.
While there were differences in each report, they all agreed on three areas of concern: strengthening compliance with the International Health Regulations group; improving outbreak-related research and data sharing; and reforming the World Health Organization to include a broader humanitarian response system.
“Ebola, and more recently Zika and yellow fever, have shown that the global system for preventing, detecting and responding to disease outbreaks is not yet reliable or robust,” the authors write.
While the G7 (a group consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) has agreed to help 76 countries, the U.S. has agreed to a one-time funding of $1 billion to help 31 countries and South Korea has pledged $100 million for 13 countries.
The study also recommends early reporting of outbreaks by countries and timely sharing of knowledge, research and technologies to prevent future outbreaks and to mitigate the effects of existing ones.
During the 2014 outbreak, for example, “there was no platform for exchanging epidemiological data between the governments of the three most affected countries,” the study says.
In addition, inadequate research on Ebola before 2014 left the world without needed drugs, vaccines and rapid diagnostic tests.
The exact roll played by the U.S. in the Ebola outbreak is hard to determine because, according to Moon, none of the reviewed reports did a country-by-country assessment. But in an email, Moon states, “What is clear is that the U.S. played an important leadership role in mobilizing an international response to the outbreak, allocating a large sum of money (a $5 billion Congressional appropriation) and sending human and material support to West Africa.
“The U.S. also plays an important leadership roll in the Global Health Security Agenda which is working towards improved global preparedness,” she adds.
Regarding the response to the four Ebola cases that were diagnosed within the U.S. in 2014, Moon says, “It was far from perfect and I understand a more in-depth evaluation is ongoing.”