Countries unprepared for future epidemics and pandemics

Scientists in the lab
Scientists in the lab (Photo credit: Artem Podrez)

The director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa Etienne, on Wednesday 17 August alerted countries in the region to increase their preparation for more epidemics and pandemics. She was speaking at a workshop on preparedness and response to events with pandemic and epidemic potential hosted in Buenos Aires, Argentina. “As we meet today, we continue to deal with the current COVID-19 Pandemic and, at the same time, we are facing an outbreak of monkeypox in several countries, COVID-19 has been a formidable challenge” and “a stark reminder of the responsibility we all have to invest in prevention, preparedness, and response to communicable pathogen events,” said Dr Etienne.

Etienne noted other respiratory pathogens are re-emerging and that seasonal influenza causes between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths each year in the region. “We must never forget that it is not a question of whether a pandemic will occur due to a new influenza virus, but when it will occur,” she warned. “Our capacity to respond to health emergencies depends on what we have done before they occur and what we have learned during previous emergencies such as COVID-19”, said the PAHO director during the opening of the workshop, which brought together a wide range of medical experts.

The Minister of Health of Argentina, Carla Vizzotti, noted that the COVID-19 Pandemic showed that health “must be a priority for everyone” because “without health, one cannot study, work or produce.” After indicating that the government had to reformulate its response to the pandemic, Vizzotti said that the region must tackle the challenges around access to medical supplies – something learned during the COVID-19 Pandemic – and “think about how we can produce and expand access to vaccines. Reflecting on the country’s response to the emergency, Vizzotti stated that “we were able to do many things in a very short time. We have to look back to see what we learned, but also forward in order to make improvements and take action that will better position us for the next pandemic”.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet,” said the PAHO representative in Argentina, Eva Jané Llopis, and added that since the declaration of the public health emergency of international importance on 30 January 2020, “the response had to be adjusted, to seek funding and involve other sectors” due to its great scope and duration. “Reflecting on what we did, taking it to the level of strategies, and thinking about other epidemiological challenges is crucial to continue moving forward,” she said.

An epidemic is an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area, while a pandemic is worldwide, documents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC).

The health agency, PAHO, aims to support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop or update their operational plans to face future pandemics and expects to hold similar workshops with other countries in the region during 2022.

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