As infectious diseases surge, experts call for pandemic preparedness
The COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed over 6.8 million lives globally, has been one of the deadliest pandemics in the history of mankind. However, with the prospects showing that it will not be the last, health experts are calling for pandemic preparedness.
NEW DELHI: The COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed over 6.8 million lives globally, has been one of the deadliest pandemics in the history of mankind. However, with the prospects showing that it will not be the last, health experts are calling for pandemic preparedness.
While nobody can predict the future of COVID, the recent rise in infections sparks concerns about new waves. But health experts suggest that the virus has mellowed down and will not cause any future concerns as in the past. However, they warned to keep up surveillance to warn of any new changes in the mutations that could cause harm.
"As COVID cases are going up, people think that it is the return of COVID. I don't think it is the return of COVID. Yes, there'll be some waves going up and down. People who have been infected and/or vaccinated one or two years ago will have some waning immunity, which can make them prone to new infections," Dr. Ishwar Gilada, an infectious disease expert, told IANS.
Dr. Gilada, however, said that the infections are mild and the trajectory of the virus can be measured via the number of people needing oxygen, hospitalisation, ICU care, ventilator support, and the death rate.
"If you look at all these five parameters, they are all low, low, and low. And that's the reason that COVID is not going to become a big problem. What is happening currently is that COVID has become much milder than the existing influenza types A and B and RSV.
"Both in the numbers as well as giving any kind of morbidity and mortality, and therefore, if we are not bothered about influenza, we should not be bothered about COVID at all," he explained.
In May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of the threat of an "inevitable" next pandemic "Disease X", raising concerns across the globe.
Disease X was first coined in 2018 by the WHO, a year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world. It is among the WHO’s "blueprint list of priority diseases" that could cause the next deadly pandemic and includes Ebola, SARS, and Zika.
"Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease," the WHO said. The Blueprint list highlights infectious diseases for which we lack medical countermeasures.
Some public health experts believe the next disease X will be zoonotic, meaning it will originate in wild or domestic animals, then spill over to infect humans, as with Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and COVID-19.
"Though we have navigated the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's crucial to recognise that this is unlikely to be the last pandemic we face. Future pandemics are not only possible but also highly probable," Dr. Dipu TS, Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Amrita Hospital, Kochi, told IANS.
"While there are severe infections like Nipah, Ebola, and monkeypox, the spread of these diseases is more related to person-to-person physical contact than airborne transmission, as seen with COVID-19 and influenza," he said.
"These are unlikely to become epidemics or pandemics, as any disease with high mortality and a shorter incubation does not survive longer," added Dr. Gilada.
More than 1.6 million viruses are yet to be discovered, and viral species from these viral families are estimated to exist in mammal and bird hosts, the most important reservoirs for viral zoonoses.
According to Dr. Dipu, future pandemics are likely to involve airborne respiratory infections sweeping the globe with mild to moderate severity. Bacterial infections like the plague are unlikely to reach pandemic proportions unless they occur in the context of biological warfare.
"Factors such as globalisation, urbanisation, climate change, and rapidly evolving ecosystems all increase the risk of an emerging pandemic sooner rather than later," he said.
At the 76th World Health Assembly meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also issued a stark warning, urging the world to prepare for the next pandemic, which he believes could be even deadlier than COVID-19.
In such a scenario, "what we should have is pandemic or emergency preparedness and global health security," Dr. Gilada, Secretary General, Organised Medicine Academic Guild (OMAG), told IANS.
"Global health security means everywhere people should be able to access treatment, medicine, and medical care; that should not be only for those people who are in rich countries," he said, citing that the global south has been unfortunate to have less access. He lauded India’s efforts to provide these to people in the global south at a low cost.
"Mitigating the impact (of pandemics) will require global cooperation, robust public health infrastructure, and early detection systems. Even as ongoing public awareness, education, vaccination, and antiviral medications can help curtail a COVID-19 resurgence, the lessons learned can help us shape a resilient and prepared global community," Dr. Dipu said. (IANS)