By Dana Burduja and Anna Lynch
It has to be faced: There will be another pandemic—it’s just inevitable. But the natural tendency among decision makers is to act as though it will never happen. That’s because preparation is costly and may not pay off for a long time. We have to ensure that policymakers back preparedness now, while the impact of COVID-19 is still fresh and before the onset of wishful forgetting.
COVID-19 is not yet gone, of course. We can look forward to the end of the pandemic, but the disease will remain with us, perhaps becoming endemic. Still, its impact has been profound on life, society and the economy. If we want to ensure that the next pandemic may have less of an epochal and catastrophic effect, scientists and policymakers need to come together to prepare for a new and different kind of pandemic. We can’t foresee exactly what kind of disease may strike, but we have learnt lessons during this pandemic that can be applied to our planning for the future—now.
Some of this preparedness is generic, rather than specific to the disease—whatever it may be—that next ravages the world. One major lesson we have learnt is that surveillance of infectious diseases and the level of research into them had been dwindling. The more attractive areas of scientific research have been focused on the very real threats posed by conditions such as heart disease and cancer. The pandemic allows us to point to the crucial importance of research into infectious diseases—particularly how a pandemic progresses, vital diagnostic tools and potential treatments or vaccines. Most of all, the understanding on a political level of the potential economic and societal impact of a pandemic is significant.
Political leaders must take responsibility for the risks posed by pandemic preparedness. They must give more weight to—and restructure—the aspects of the scientific community that have not functioned optimally during the COVID-19 pandemic, including behemoth structures such as the World Health Organization, where processes and functions have been shown to be outdated or outpaced.