Infectious disease experts do not doubt a next epidemic, after the Covid-19. And they give advice on what we can do until then. The American point of view extends to the whole world.
More than two years after the Covid-19 pandemic, we are at a crossroads.
On the one hand, “this is the easiest time to teach the world the importance of public health in a hundred years,” says Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “On the other hand, we really risk going full steam ahead into the neglect phase of the ‘panic-neglect cycle’.”
The “panic and neglect cycle” is the habit of underinvesting or giving inadequate attention to the public health infrastructure and functions needed to prevent, identify, contain and respond to infectious disease outbreaks.
Another pandemic seems inevitable. “We live in the age of pandemics,” said Larry Brilliant, epidemiologist and executive chairman of Pandefense Advisory, an interdisciplinary network of experts engaged in pandemic response.
More than six out of ten infectious diseases originate in animals and are transmitted to humans. That risk “has increased over the past 20 years,” Brilliant said. “Every year, the risk increases more.”
Public health “certainly made a number of mistakes” during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the experience offered lessons, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during of the Life Itself Conference, a health and wellness conference held in partnership with CNN.
“Investment in basic and clinical biomedical research has allowed us, at unprecedented speed, to develop highly effective vaccines that essentially (we never imagined) could do so quickly,” he said. he adds. “We need to continue to make these investments, not just in science…but in public health infrastructure.” It must also be remembered “what it means to have a public health system that has not been able to respond in a way that matches the challenge we face,” he said.
“What we don’t want is for our children, and perhaps our grandchildren, to forget what we went through.”
It remains to be seen whether or not we apply the lessons of the current pandemic, Frieden said, but it is essential to ending this cycle, so that epidemics do not become pandemics, with myriad consequences – including millions of lives lost and drastic effects. about health care, mental health, economics, education, relationships and careers.
Much of the burden of preparedness falls on public health institutions, but the public can play a vital role. Here’s what some of the leading infectious disease experts believe the two can do to help:
1. Increase funding for public health
The United States spends at least “about 300 to 500 times more on our military defense than on our health defense,” Frieden said. “And yet, no war in American history has killed a million Americans.”
As of June 1, nearly 6.3 million people have died of Covid-19 worldwide, including more than 1,007,000 Americans.
“So we really have to up our game, in terms of protecting people in this country and around the world,” said Frieden, who is also executive chairman of Resolve to Save Lives, an independent organization focused on preventing epidemics and diseases. cardiovascular illnesses. “You can’t make a country safer without creating a safer world.”
“It’s hard, especially from a funding perspective, to convince people with big pocket books…to say, ‘Maybe it can happen, maybe it won’t, but we have to invest billions of dollars in the arena,'” Kizzmekia said. Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Corbett’s team developed mRNA-1273, a leading coronavirus vaccine manufactured and developed by ModernaTX and NIAID.
“Because of this, many times a lot of research dollars and a lot of research intelligence goes to the side of treatments,” Corbett added. “We want to be able to change that way of thinking.”
More funding is also needed for issues like having enough testing when the time comes, Brilliant said, “so we don’t fall behind ‘balloon eight’ like we were” in Covid-19.
More investment in global health is also needed. The World Health Organization’s budget is less than some major US cities, Brilliant said, “and they have to take on the pandemic risk for 200 countries and all the other things the WHO does.”
“We need to think of pandemic preparedness as truly strengthening the global public health system,” he added. “At this time, it is not clear that Congress [dos EUA] appropriate the amount of money that makes sense. Because for 80% of the country, they have the feeling – and legitimately the feeling – that their risk [Covid-19] already passed”.
2. Protect nature
Preventing pandemics also means that “we need better systems to protect nature so that nature doesn’t bite us anymore,” Frieden said.
In studies of zoonotic disease vectors, the risk is highest when human exploitation and habitat destruction threaten wild animals. When we hunt and occupy the natural habitats of wild animals or sell wild animals in markets, they are under great stress, which makes them more susceptible to infection and producing more viruses. This leads to greater viral distribution, which is the expulsion and release of virus-carrying feces.
Being around or eating stressed and sick animals puts humans at greater risk of catching a virus, Christine Kreuder Johnson, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, told CNN in 2020. of the virus is also higher in humans and animal species that have similar DNA or have lived together over time, such as pigs or cattle.
Thinking about environmental health as part of our health is key to reducing the spread of the virus, Johnson said.
It is essential that everyone does their part to slow climate change, Brilliant said. “Due to rising temperatures, animals are migrating from south to north,” he said. “When animals migrate and change territory, they come into contact with other animals that they have never had contact with before. And they exchange viruses, just as they exchange viruses with us.”
3. Act early and quickly
To prevent a major emergency, it is essential that infectious disease specialists detect outbreaks of a new disease early and treat them quickly, as long as they are small.
“My group, Resolve to Save Lives, has suggested a global galvanizing goal that we call 7-1-7: that every outbreak anywhere in the world is detected within seven days of its emergence, reported within the day, and has response measures. control in place within seven days,” Frieden said. This approach “allows us to quickly identify things that need to be fixed.”
4. Improve public health communication
We have better tools to fight infectious diseases than ever, but we’re also more vulnerable than ever, in part because of a general lack of trust between communities, governments and health systems, Frieden said.
“The CDC literally wrote the book on public health emergency communication: be the first, be right, be credible, be empathetic, give people practical, proven things to do to protect themselves, protect their families (e) their communities,” Frieden said. . “Unfortunately, this was not implemented (in the United States), neither by the previous administration nor by this one.” And we suffer from it.”
“You can’t build trust in an emergency,” Frieden added. “You have to have it as a baseline.”
Communicating about the pandemic “has been a challenge,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told Life Itself. “We have been divided against a common enemy, which has been this pandemic virus.”
“We had to make decisions with imperfect data and imperfect times, but if we hadn’t made a decision then, it would have been a decision in itself,” he added. “We need to follow and understand the best science we have at the time the decision is made.”
Walensky plans to spend much of his time working on ways to integrate public awareness with pandemic surveillance, he said.
“You have to be consistent, always stick to facts, evidence and data.” That was one of the questions that obviously came up when I was on the coronavirus task force in the previous administration. [de Donald Trump]“, Fauci said.
5. Fight misinformation
There’s a saying that a lie can travel half the world before the truth even puts on its boots. “It has been very difficult for health care, doctors and others to deal with viral misinformation, which spreads even faster than the virus. [variante] omicron,” Frieden said.
Misinformation about the pandemic can influence people’s motivations, beliefs, and decision-making about their health, politics, the environment, and more.
Some social media apps, such as Instagram and TikTok, have launched features that lead people to accurate information from credible health organizations when viewing coronavirus or vaccine-related content.
Confronting loved ones about your misleading or fake social media posts isn’t easy, but there are ways to do it skillfully with empathy.
6. Support your own health
Individual resilience is another key factor in preventing serious illness and death during pandemics, Frieden said.
“One of the reasons Covid killed so many people is that there were so many people vulnerable to health issues,” he concluded.
Healthy lifestyle habits that boost immunity can “make a very big difference”, he said. Take prescribed medications, find healthy foods you like, and don’t smoke or expose yourself to other people’s smoke, Frieden recommended.
“Being healthy doesn’t mean depriving ourselves of the things we want to do,” Frieden said, “but discovering the healthy things we love to do and doing more of them.”