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Photo illustration by John Lyman

Fingers crossed we learned important lessons from the current pandemic that has killed millions of people.

Despite knowing that the likelihood is high, people are never really truly prepared for the next natural or man-made disaster. It’s as though people would prefer to take a bullet to the head than perish from something that is preventable. The past three years has given us a pandemic which has killed roughly 7 million people worldwide. Even though the current pandemic is still ongoing, and killing a few thousand people a day, we have collectively moved on to other pressing matters like the war in Ukraine and other global issues.

Communicable diseases have existed for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until early humans developed agrarian communities that pandemics became a problem. During this period, diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox, and others first occurred. As humans expanded their footprint and colonized other regions, infectious diseases soon followed.

A pandemic is a worst-case scenario in the world of infectious diseases. When an epidemic spreads beyond a country’s borders, it is declared a pandemic. Even in this day and age, outbreaks are practically continuous, however not every epidemic reaches pandemic proportions like COVID-19.

Future possibilities of pandemics

The next global pandemic cannot be predicted with 100% certainty since it will be determined by a number of factors like our capacity to react to and control it primarily through preventative measures like vaccines. However, governments, health organizations, and the general public must be prepared for future pandemics and take action to limit their spread. With that said, there are a number of viruses that we should be on the lookout for.

Bat and mosquito-borne

The World Health Organization warns that the Nipah virus, or Nipah henipavirus, might possibly lead to a pandemic. There is no known vaccine, it is very lethal, and there have already been outbreaks in some parts of Asia. On the other hand, each year, mosquito-borne illnesses kill approximately one million people and infect another 700 million. Scientists at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have identified a hazardous mosquito species that has never been observed before in the Western Hemisphere. It was most likely brought there from Asia concealed in a shipping container, and it could spread Zika and other illnesses throughout North America.

Camel and pig-borne

MERS is a coronavirus that can be quite fatal. In 2012, during an outbreak, its fatality rate was 34%. COVID-19’s fatality rate is something in the area of under 5%. It is transmitted by camels, which provide milk and meat to millions of people in Africa and the Middle East. Scientists think an outbreak is coming as climate change and overcrowding bring more humans into contact with camels. We have seen that the outbreak of Swine Flu H1N1 in 2009, which was widespread, may have prompted improvements in industrial farms throughout the globe. However, farmers in Europe are no longer obligated to vaccinate themselves or their cattle or to report disease outbreaks. So, there is a risk that it will expand in the future as a pandemic.

Yellow fever and Ebola

Despite the fact that there is a yellow fever vaccine, the illness infects 200,000 people each year and kills roughly 30,000. Outbreaks are increasing as people encroach on natural environments, like Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest for example. Yellow fever, according to scientists, may now be spreading from people to monkeys and back but they have begun a vaccine campaign for monkeys. On the other hand, with a short incubation people, scientists aren’t as concerned about Ebola becoming a pandemic.

The neglected one

Buruli ulcers first appeared in Uganda and have lately moved to Australia. It is a “neglected” worldwide illness with little funding or study behind it. However, it has the capacity to turn into a deadly pandemic. And because of a lack of study, it will become difficult to tackle in a short period of time if it is deemed a pandemic.

Are we all set for the next one?

As a result, the main concern is whether we are really prepared for the next epidemic. So far, the work done to curb COVID-19 has given humanity some hope that, in the future, the globe would take a communal strategy to combat the next pandemic. Furthermore, it’s impossible to determine if we’re totally prepared for the next pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for improved preparation and faster reaction in the case of a repeat epidemic. Efforts are being undertaken to increase our capacity to identify and react to outbreaks, such as the development of novel vaccinations and treatments and the strengthening of global health systems. However, it is crucial to remember that pandemics are unpredictable and may have a large effect even when precautions are taken.

Response solidarity; healthcare

The robustness of a country’s mechanism for identifying and reacting to outbreaks is critical to the success of any pandemic preparedness. At the same time, nations must improve their cooperation to provide a more equal allocation of readiness and response tools. COVID-19 saw affluent countries prioritize their own populations over a fairer global response, perhaps prolonging and exacerbating the consequences. Some underdeveloped countries were unable to get the diagnostics, vaccinations, and treatments required to react successfully. As a result, this situation has to be simplified for the sake of future pandemics.

Nonetheless, the globe is presumably better prepared as a result of enhanced regional solidarity, as seen by African states that formed their own program to acquire vaccinations and medicines to deal with COVID-19. Furthermore, a global network of vaccination and diagnostics research and manufacturing centers is being established, a level of collaboration that has never been seen before. This partnership might pave the way for better pandemic response planning in the future.

Political solidarity in reaction

The global political landscape may provide the most difficult barriers to pandemic preparation. The crisis was compounded by increased divisiveness among developed nations, as well as ongoing conflicts and sanctions. National sovereignty must be maintained to avoid such situations, but the problem is to ensure that such considerations do not override the unity necessary for a sufficient global response.

Furthermore, rather than blaming one other, developed countries ought to concentrate on solving issues. However, the dynamics of global politics have shifted, delaying the developing world’s growth path. As a result, this uncertainty harmed the global political structure’s cohesiveness. As a consequence, if a big epidemic strikes in the future, these polarized players will be responsible for massive losses. Conflicts and a lack of trust will kill the human race quicker than a pandemic.

Economic reaction; solidarity

COVID-19 has had a profound economic effect on the globe. The abrupt suspension of enterprises and sectors to halt the virus’s spread resulted in severe job losses and an economic collapse in some regions. Many nations have seen a dramatic decline in their GDP and a rise in unemployment. Travel restrictions and supply chain disruptions caused delays and lowered demand for products and services, which had a significant effect on international commerce. Small and medium-sized businesses were particularly impacted since they often lack the wherewithal to weather extended economic downturns.

In light of this, several governments have enacted stimulus packages and other steps to assist companies and people throughout the crisis. Central banks have also taken steps to stabilize financial markets and avoid a credit crisis. However, the economic recovery is continuous and unclear, with several elements impacting the result, such as the speed with which vaccines are distributed and the advent of new viruses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only served as a timely reminder of the significance of solidarity in a variety of contexts, but it has also made some new avenues for the prevention of future pandemics. It has been determined that raising financing for public health, conserving the environment, and enhancing health communication are all essential steps that must be taken in order to prevent the occurrence of future pandemics. Nevertheless, the continuous political and economic transition enhances the risk that we won’t be able to successfully avoid the next pandemic. Nevertheless, the way in which the key parties respond will, once again, determine how these issues will be resolved.

S.M. Saifee Islam is a Research Analyst at the Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.