Is the world prepared to handle outbreak and spread of diseases like the Corona Virus?

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The wealth of a nation is said to depend on the health of its citizens. Better health is central to human happiness and well-being and makes an important contribution in the economic development as healthy people live long; are more productive and save more. Therefore countries across the world have started investing more and more in the health sector.

But despite the efforts taken, people are still faced with many types of public disease like recent cases of corona virus in China, Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala etc. Hence a question arises – Is the world prepared to handle dangerous outbreak of infectious disease?

According to the World Health Organization’s Global Health Security Index no country is fully prepared. The index which assess 195 countries across 6 categories- prevention, early detection, rapid response, health system quality , standards and the risk environment, demonstrates that many countries are insignificant in their ability to deal with such outbreaks. The level of unpreparedness is highlighted by the fact that the average overall score of all countries was as low as 40.2 out of 100 and majority of the middle and high income countries don’t score above 50. This shows that almost all countries have vulnerabilities.

Hence it’s necessary for the political leaders to understand the risks that these diseases pose and commit in making improvement in their preparedness to address the issue.

First of all, it’s high time for the UN Secretary General to call for a summit for the world leaders to discuss disease outbreaks and create a new unit for monitoring the issue.

Secondly, the National Government needs to take action to boost their preparedness for these events and the efforts needs to be monitored with results publishing in every 2 years. One of the lessons learnt from the 2008 global financial crisis was that countries need to carry out regular stress tests on their financial systems which have proved to be valuable. Similar kind of test needs to be carried out by the countries to check the health system and to identify crucial gaps in areas such as adequate supply of diagnostic equipment, hygienic practices, prevention and treatment protocol etc.

Third is the role of partnership.

Images showing long queues of desperate shoppers trying to buy hand sanitizers, facemask etc. in China and Hong Kong highlights the need of a strong supply chain of these products during medical emergencies. Here partnership plays a crucial role – partnership not only between public and private sectors but also between countries can help sustain supply chain as well as bolster the medical capacity of the country facing the outbreak.

Global financial mechanisms such as emergency loan facility with deferred drawdown option that the World Bank uses for disasters, must be set up to provide funds to the countries for their efforts as and when needed.

But the best among all the weapons is to increase the investment in health and education sector. Countries like India spend less than 1.5% of GDP on health and only 3.1% on education. According to WHO, India has only 80 doctors per 1,00,000 people. Kerala’s experience in 2018 with the deadly Nipah virus and Thailand’s experience during the MERS outbreak in 2015 rightly proves the statement as said by Nelson Mandela- “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world ‘’. The availability of equipment for early detection, measures taken to arrest the spread, public health campaigns to keep the mortality rate low and having capable public health professionals which helped in exchanging quick information with WHO showed the value of investing in education and health sector over long term.

Last but not the least is focusing on environmental degradation and taking steps to prevent it because according to a recent research one of the major reasons for birth of new pathogens is global warming and climate change. Protection of biodiversity should also be a priority as nearly two-third of existing pathogens and three-fourth of new pathogens spread from animals to humans.

The proverb Prevention is better than cure insists us to take appropriate measures before the commencement of problem as it can prevent mishaps from occurring and its right time for the world to bring the saying into action. Such type of outbreaks is more likely to occur in the future but the best response is preparedness and commitment from all to achieve it.

-Monika Dash

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