‘A diplomatic flap’: Why governments aren’t prepared for a pandemic

Written by By Isobel Coleman, CNN

A new global report warns that the world is unprepared for a new pandemic, stating that the new category of bioterrorism is “acute.”

The report comes as the World Health Organization celebrates the 40th anniversary of the emergence of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus.

While officials in the UK and other countries have investigated the cause of a mysterious illness which has killed 29 people and sickened hundreds in a small town in northern China, the report warns that the report “a diplomatic flap , is a clear example of the UN doing its job at the worst possible time.”

The report, produced by International Alert and Every Sign Of Dying , looked at 43 countries in all, to see how they deal with pandemics.

The authors were prepared to address criticisms leveled at the report by opposing views, with the report explaining that “different countries come to policymaking with different experiences.”

Not everyone was taken with the report, including an analysis by Vox , which argues that the authors fail to consider the root causes of what it considers to be the real problems with global health, which in large part have to do with drug resistance.

The WHO however praised the report for raising the discussion of how people and governments react to pandemics.

So why have we failed to see the writing on the wall?

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned of the ‘complacency’ in health care systems, despite the spreading of the Zika virus around the world. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Wirke König, executive director of World Economic Forum (WEF) said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “we do not have proper understanding of how we plan, how we implement and we do not have proper social and political will to solve the problem.”

The report found that 42% of countries in the report are not registered on national and international databases, such as countries’ national health registries or systems for tracking the health of migrants, meaning if they experience a pandemic, they could be left “vulnerable” with outbreaks spread to more areas.

The report found that only six out of 43 countries have an inter-agency working group specifically to tackle pandemics, and only two countries have such a working group in contact with WHO.

The report suggested that governments and governments are failing to design and implement public health systems that are adaptive, data-focused and resilient enough to handle all levels of risk, from pandemics to natural disasters.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who succeeded Margaret Chan as the director-general of the WHO in September 2017, warned of “complacency” among health care systems on the part of countries as well as the public.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, left, and Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, right, pose for a photo after meeting at the health minister’s office in Singapore on April 5, 2017. Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

His predecessor Margaret Chan raised the alarm on the threat of a bird flu pandemic in 2014, but even as the worst of the H7N9 outbreak fizzled out in 2015, Chan warned that a second bird flu — H5N1 — is fast spreading in East Asia and could bring with it a deadly epidemic.

“We have to invest heavily on this epidemic, not just because of its human victims but because of the suffering it causes on poultry and other species,” Chan said.

In response to the report, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, urged for countries to take immediate action and tackle health emergencies now.

“The next pandemic may strike any time now, and an outbreak and serious pandemic would be even harder to respond to if governments and communities are not sufficiently prepared.”

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