Humans are not very good at valuing preventative measures, which inevitably means we underinvest in disaster prevention. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic we have an opportunity to use the heightened public awareness of pandemics to put in place long lasting and effective measures to improve pandemic disease prevention and preparedness. We must avoid short term measures that will be sidelined after a few years ‚’ much like an insurance policy there is no use paying the premiums for a short while and then giving up, you must continue to pay so that when disaster strikes you are covered. This same mentality should be used in pandemic preparedness, setting up independent institutions or multi-use facilities with long-term funding arrangements.
An example: The UN‚’s Emerging Pandemic Threats program was set up in 2005 in response to the H5N1 avian influenza epidemic, and perpetuated through the 2009 H1N1 swine ‚’flu and 2014 Ebola outbreaks. The core goal of the program was to build disease surveillance capacity, sending experts to monitor potentially pandemic viruses in wildlife, and helping countries provide veterinary services and testing to catch outbreaks developing in livestock. In 2014 Ebola ranked third on the list of Americans‚’ top health concerns. As a result, the US Congress passed an emergency appropriation of $5.4 billion to fund the Ebola response, allowing the UN‚’s pandemic preparedness work to continue. But societies have short memories. Too much time between pandemic scares, and constant pressures on the government budget, meant that the funding for this important work dried up in 2019, right before COVID-19 emerged. It is this sort of short-sightedness that must be avoided.
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