Saturday, October 16

Five strategies to prepare now for the next pandemic | Science


As the world continues to be shocked by the covid-19 pandemic, experts in public health and emergency management are already preparing for the next one. After all, biologists are sure that sooner or later another dangerous new pathogen will appear. As public health researchers, we are dedicated to leading the response to health disasters and evaluating emergency management. Here are five strategies that will allow the world to anticipate, and perhaps even help prevent the next outbreak or epidemic from taking on pandemic dimensions.

1. Strengthen existing systems

The detection in February 2021 of a new Ebola outbreak in Guinea demonstrated the critical importance of surveillance and reporting to rapidly respond to and contain an infectious disease. Generally, the process works like this: When an insightful doctor diagnoses a disease that is on the watch list of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they report the case to health authorities. locals for investigation. Information goes up the chain to the state, federal and international levels.

Doctors, public health professionals and laboratories around the world send disease reports to groups such as the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. It gathers all the data and helps to identify outbreaks of new infectious diseases and their pandemic potential.

If a pathogen manages to escape local monitoring mechanisms and begins to spread, governments have emergency management systems in place to respond. These incident command structures provide a framework for responding to crises ranging from infectious diseases to natural disasters to terrorist attacks.

In the United States, there are various federal agencies with different responsibilities. These agencies monitor new infectious diseases, establish a national strategic pool of resources, and help states prepare and react. Since the responsibility for emergency response rests with each state – as determined by the US Constitution – they have the flexibility to decide how to apply the measures at the local level.

A practical way to be prepared for a future pandemic is to ensure the stability of all these systems and structures. This means continuing to fund, train and staff a rapid global response even when no pandemic threat is on the horizon.

2. Prepare citizens to do their part

An effective response to a pandemic requires clear and consistent criteria and actionable guidelines that reflect best practices based on sound science. Messages and data that clearly explain why each person plays an important role in containing the pandemic – and that this may change as the outbreak evolves over time – are critical.

The slogan to stay home and “flatten the curve” to avoid overloading healthcare resources with COVID-19 cases was an essential first public health message that many Americans not classified as essential workers understood. However, when the initial confinement orders were lifted and new treatments emerged, there was widespread confusion about the safety of public gatherings, particularly as the recommendations varied by state or locality.

Guidelines are also more effective if they are tailored to different groups. In southern states, distrust of government and health services testing and vaccination programs is directly related to language barriers and concerns about immigrant status. One strategy for reaching diverse and often underserved populations is to rely on local religious community leaders to help convey public health messages.

An effective response to a pandemic requires clear and consistent criteria and actionable guidelines that reflect best practices based on sound science

Being prepared requires a “pan-community strategy” that involves everyone in the planning phases, and in particular members of underserved or vulnerable populations. Building relationships now can improve access to information and resources when the next disaster strikes, helping to ensure fairness and agility in response.

Scientists and risk communication specialists have begun to debate how people can best handle the flood of information during a pandemic. The teachings of what has been called a COVID-19 news “infodemic” – some reliable, others certainly not – can inform new strategies for sharing credible information and building trust in science.

3. Coordinate and practice

Emergency managers and heads of health services have long recognized that, in critical public health situations, a coordinated response by different teams is key.

Simulation exercises that mimic real emergencies help administration staff prepare for all kinds of crises. As in a fire drill, they bring the parties involved together to walk through a hypothetical disaster scenario and discuss roles and responsibilities. These practices involve individuals who work in public health, health emergency management, and healthcare, as well as front-line federal, tribal, state, and local representatives.

Practice scenarios should also include “cumulative catastrophe” situations, such as a hurricane or winter storm that further strains the response system.

In addition to this training, health professionals can receive cross-training to reinforce specialized medical personnel, who may need support during a long-term pandemic.

These exercises allow a community to test specific sections of the general emergency management plan and determine gaps or areas to be reinforced. Continually checking and practicing the plan ensures that everyone is as well prepared as possible.

In addition to this training, health professionals can receive cross-training to reinforce specialized medical personnel, who may need support during a long-term pandemic.

The covid-19 pandemic has taught us new things about infrastructure and supply chains. Investments in key resources can strengthen national strategic stocks of supplies and vaccines for the future. If necessary, the president can use the Defense Production Act to order that private companies give priority to federal commissions.

4. Refine the strategy manual

After each response to a major disaster, the different groups involved (security forces, emergency medical services, public health and search and rescue, among others) carry out so-called “after-action reflections”, which allow the refinement of the plans for next time.

For example, after the 2009 flu pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services found that while communication efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paid off, some important messages went unnoticed by many. non-English language groups. The post-action reflection exercise observed that distrust in the government increased when the supply of vaccines did not meet the expectations of the population. For their part, the Administration staff could schedule practices to rehearse and adjust strategies for the next occasion.

A thorough review of the response to the current covid-19 pandemic at all levels will identify gaps, challenges and successes. These “after action” discoveries need to be integrated into future planning to improve preparedness and response to the next pandemic.

5. Seize the new normal

Back in 1918, when the H1N1 pandemic broke out, few Americans had a telephone. As a result of the quarantine regulations, more households began to use it and research was accelerated that reduced the reliance on human telephone operators. Similarly, there is no doubt that COVID-19 has unleashed rapid changes that will last and help the United States be prepared for what happens in the future.

Adapting to the necessary changes in our way of life brought about by the pandemic has been easier thanks to the innovations that technology has brought to the workplace, the classroom and healthcare. Business analysts predict that the rapid shift to video conferencing and telecommuting by offices in 2020 will be a lasting legacy of COVID-19. A multidisciplinary team at Texas A&M University is studying how robotics and automated systems have been used to respond to the pandemic in healthcare and public health and safety.

Some sudden and drastic changes in rules and behaviors, such as wearing masks in public places, may be among the easiest strategies to maintain to defend against a future respiratory virus pandemic. In the same way that telephone systems have continued to improve over the last 100 years, continuous innovation based on the rapid adoption of technologies around covid-19 will help people adapt to sudden changes in their lives. way of life when the next global epidemic breaks out.

Tiffany A. Radcliff is Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Texas A&M University.

Angela Clendenin is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Texas A&M University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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