The COVID-19 Pandemic has underscored the need to find new, collaborative global medical solutions. Although many measures were put in place by policymakers across the world including masks, social distancing, and lockdowns, the inadequacies of our modern health apparatus were painfully revealed. Due to increasingly large populations of people condensed into small urban areas and record numbers of people traveling across the world, the risk of viral spread is very high. The main weakness highlighted by the ongoing pandemic was the inability to quickly detect and respond to rapidly developing viruses. There are multiple efforts underway that will help moving forward; these include Zoonotic research and tracking, viral surveillance, and improved global collaboration processes.
Read on to learn a little more about each.
In order to properly prepare for the future challenges that we may face, it is important to understand how diseases develop and spread. There are millions of viruses existing on the planet, but the main threat to humans is zoonotic diseases, meaning viral diseases that are transferred from contact between humans and animals. The CDC has found that up to three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and there are roughly 500,000 – 700,000 active zoonotic viruses. Zoonotic diseases often transfer to humans because of interaction with animal populations during farming, livestock trading, and hunting wildlife. Despite these concerns, according to CDC researchers, there are effective ways to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks. Some of the most important ways we can work to do so are by reducing deforestation, regulating exotic wet markets, and investing in biodiversity conservation. Another important way is to monitor high-risk areas and animal populations, where zoonotic diseases have a high probability of developing and spreading.
Currently, there are very few formal systems in place to monitor danger zones or to detect viral spillover before the situation develops to the level of an outbreak other than for influenza. (That’s why we are working so hard on our mobile app, to help people quickly access pathogen information for their location so they can make smart movement decisions for themselves and their families based on risk levels)
Researchers have also recommended using influenza monitoring systems as a model when implementing systems for new zoonotic diseases. The main components of such systems would include virologic surveillance, virus characterization, and geographic spread. By regularly conducting human and domestic animal viral surveillance in combination with clinical tests and assessments in hot spot locations, experts believe a safety network can be put into place. For example, wildlife mortality reporting networks have already had success in early detection in countries across Africa and could be set up in known hot spot regions that presently lack the funding and resources needed. Additionally, requiring state and local health agencies to report weekly disease activity and the estimated level of spread would help identify potential hot spots.
Transparency will be essential to prevent pandemics moving forward. By creating global standards and reporting policies, countries and local governments can work together to help mitigate risk. Improved communication and collaboration, such as the exchange of data and integration of surveillance systems, will alleviate the burden of individual nations and reduce political and economic consequences. Experts agree there are substantive, effective ways to stop not only outbreaks but full-scale pandemics from happening again. It starts with research funding, effective policy decisions, and data. There are many challenges ahead in the fight against pandemics, but we now have a blueprint to establish a secure health system to keep us safe in the future.