The Importance of Increasing Awareness and Healthcare Resilience
First established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2020, the International Day of Epidemic Preparedness plays a pivotal role in advocating the importance of having the right systems in place to be protected against epidemics.
Shameet Thakkar, leading humanitarian aid expert and managing director of Unimed Procurement Services, an organisation working to improve global access to healthcare products, comments on the importance of raising awareness and building resilience to combat the threat of epidemics.
He said: “Epidemics pose significant risks to human health as well as social and economic development, making them one of the biggest challenges facing our world today.
“Though mortality rates may have decreased, we continue to fight existing pathogens, some of which, such as HIV, have mutated through the years, with others such as malaria and cholera being endemic to specific areas, making them a continuous threat to certain groups of individuals.
“Recently, we have seen epidemics such as SARS, H1N1, MERS, Polio and Ebola causing substantial strain on already struggling health systems, with developing countries fighting to protect their populations.”
Speaking of the complex and multi-faceted issues stemming from epidemics, Shameet commented: “Epidemics translate to economic risks, too, such as increased costs to health systems, with health systems becoming overwhelmed, limiting their ability to provide routine care. And while the pharmaceutical sector may benefit financially, other sectors such as health insurance companies may suffer, creating significant imbalances.
“These imbalances affect populations too, with more densely populated areas being subject to quicker spread. And when it comes to countries with less resilient health systems, epidemics become less preventable.
“Timely response is key – but what about areas where this just isn’t possible? Global health inequalities pose a significant threat in our world. The lack of resilience across developing countries’ health systems is the most dangerous side effect, with these countries already struggling to care for their populations’ basic medical needs, let alone provide an acceptable level of epidemic preparedness.
“A resilient health system is one that is easily able to adapt to changing circumstances, with solid infrastructure capable of coping with increased demand and providing a reliable supply of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment, as well as one that exploits intersectoral collaboration to facilitate a rapid and coordinated response.
“Within lack of resilience in healthcare, the focus on treatment as opposed to prevention has been a huge part of the problem. Increasing access to preventative and diagnostic measures and equipment can help tackle the issue at the root, decreasing the need for costly medicines and reducing the burden on healthcare. “
Commenting on the steps we need to take to improve epidemic preparedness in the future, Shameet added: “Improved sanitation, clean water and access to nutrients and basic medicine can all contribute to decreased rates of infection, but budgets are tight in some areas, and supplies limited.
“This of course means that international collaboration is essential, and it is required in many forms. Governments can play a key role, increasing regional and international cooperation and solidarity, with more attention being given to those who are particularly vulnerable to epidemics.
“We must apply the lessons we have learned from previous crises, setting out epidemic management plans for emergency response, even in places with restricted budgets.
“Policymakers should assist in this key area by putting measures in place to strengthen basic systems, improve international communication, and fund the creation of platforms to facilitate the development of vaccines, as well as ensuring that these are made available to the populations that most need them.
“Climate change and globalisation are rising threats, amplifying the transmissibility of diseases, though their effects are only going to continue to grow and expand. Unpredictability is certainly an issue, meaning we just don’t know which pathogen will cause the next epidemic or where this will happen.
“In light of this, raising awareness of the risks of potential future epidemics is vital, so education and the exchange of information and best practice is essential, as is continued research into existing pathogens and emerging ones, their likely impact and how to best stop them.”