We know, too, that there are gaps in our existing public health and healthcare systems around the world, as well as challenges governing information sharing, intellectual property rights, supply chain logistics and manufacturing capacity. And we know that the scientific community, when appropriately resourced, can rapidly develop drugs and vaccines.
What is required now is harnessing the political will, while it still exists, and the finances to strengthen preparedness and response for the next biological threat.
Vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics
It is natural to suggest that we must invest in the development of new therapeutics and vaccines — but this is a lot easier said than done. In order to develop new platforms for diagnostics, rapid sequencing of new biological threats, robust manufacturing capacity, and a process to widely and equitably distribute products, we must start thinking more critically about how to change or strengthen our policies to facilitate these goals.
The global community would then need the capacity to manufacture sufficient quantities of drugs or vaccines to meet the needs of large populations and ensure systems are in place to distribute products to every corner of the world. Without starting to think through how our policies can facilitate the development and distribution of these products, our goal of addressing future viral threats will be out of reach.
Global norms and standards governing disease response
Strengthening our international standards for disease response starts with ensuring compliance with the international agreements we already have in place, like the International Health Regulations, to make them more effective in addressing evolving global challenges. This will allow us to better forecast disease outbreaks, share information, engage in travel and trade, undertake relevant health investigations, govern intellectual property rights, and support equity and human rights.
Financing preparedness and response
Sustained, predictable financing for both pandemic preparedness and response is essential to getting ahead of the next pandemic. Financing must be able to support national and subnational resources as well as fund global efforts, like research and development.
People need to be trained in multi-year programs, possibly through partnerships between academia and governments. Jobs and competitive pay must then be available when students graduate. And then individuals must be supported to ensure they are able to do their jobs well, while also taking care of themselves and their families.
What does strengthening pandemic preparedness mean right now?
For governments, pandemic preparedness means a commitment to building and sustaining national, sub-national and community public health capacity, from community health workers to diagnostic laboratories. For communities, it means continual public health messaging to ensure that people are educated about the basics of public health and understand why certain policy actions are taken.
National funders and philanthropies must identify promising health-related research groups deserving investment, while multilateral development banks like the World Bank have the important responsibility of ensuring funds can reach research institutions and communities, and be rapidly distributed if a new crisis emerges.
While the world is still fighting Covid-19, we must build off the existing response and make it even stronger for the next threat. As we learn lessons from our response to the public health crisis we currently face, we look forward with optimism. If the world is willing to put in sufficient time and attention, and governments commit to prioritizing global health security, we can strengthen public health capabilities around the world, reward collaboration and cooperation, and ensure the world is prepared for the next pandemic.